Most of us are comfortable sharing with family and friends our woes of back, neck or leg pain. But what about when you have pain in a place where—ahem—no one really talks about?
Enter Karen Dobbs.
A physical therapist specializing in the pelvic floor, Karen helps men and women suffering from muscle and nerve pain associated with sex, going to the bathroom, wearing underwear, and even sitting or standing.
“Because of the sensitive nature of my patients’ problems, during the first session, my goal is to make them feel comfortable and gain their trust,” says Karen, who lives in West River, Md. “We sit in a private room and have a confidential, personal conversation about what’s going on.”
Karen is one of four practitioners at Anne Arundel Medical Center who focuses on pelvic health issues. She says it is an emerging field with few professionals trained to do this kind of work.
Every person is different, says Karen. “Each condition I treat is very specific and the treatment is customized to the patient’s needs.”
The goal of pelvic floor physical therapy is either muscle strengthening—often associated with urinary or fecal incontinence, or muscle relaxation, which is frequently associated with sexual pain; for example, pudendal neuralgia, a nerve condition that leads to pain in the clitoris/penis, vulva/scrotum, perineum, and rectum. Treatment also can involve the back and leg muscles because they are connected to the pelvic floor.
“Often, patients cannot share their problem with friends, family or even their doctor,” says Karen. “Sometimes it takes a few sessions before they open up.” But once they begin to have pain relief as a result of the therapy, they become more comfortable and willing to try different treatment options.
Karen talks to her patients about anatomy, how muscles work, and how you can relax or strengthen them. Patients are usually given a home program to follow, which is very important. They only progress at the rate the patient is comfortable.