Written by Katelyn Hickey, SPT
Many physical therapists started as patients themselves. This is how my experience with endometriosis led me to pursuing pelvic health physical therapy.
I was nineteen years old when I was first told I may have endometriosis. I had no clue what it meant, but a sense of relief washed over me as a name was finally attached to the unrelenting pain I had been experiencing for the past six years. I thought being diagnosed was the finish line; that the only obstacle standing between a pain-free life and myself was an easy, cookie cutter solution. However, it would not be until over a year later when I stepped into a pelvic health physical therapy clinic for the first time, that my journey to living pain free would begin. Little did I know that through education, treatment, and guidance from my physical therapist, I would be stepping into my future as well.
Like 1 in 10 women, I experienced heavy, painful periods, abdominal, pelvic, and back pain, as well as a plethora of other common symptoms shown in those with endometriosis. My daily life was being heavily interfered; I would miss school, social activities, and even began to develop anxiety in the days leading up to my period. I saw numerous doctors, looking for some sort of validation, but was turned away and told “that’s part of being a girl”, “periods are supposed to hurt”, and other outstanding myths.
It was the fourth doctor I saw who referred me to see a pelvic health physical therapist, and I immediately dismissed it. I was far too embarrassed to talk about my pelvic pain any further. However, after realizing my pain was not getting any better and seeing that there did not seem to be any other option besides extra-strength Tylenol and a good heating pad – I decided to swallow my pride and go to pelvic health physical therapy. I have known many women to say this and it was the same for me – it was my last resort.
To my surprise, after my first appointment I had noticed a small improvement in my pelvic pain – enough to give me hope. During my evaluation, I told my PT I felt as if I was living my life at a constant 3 on the pain scale. It was tolerable, but it was almost always there. One of my most memorable moments in physical therapy was the first time I said “two” in response to my pain level instead of the usual three. It was around then I realized I needed to provide the same hope for others. I was already on the PT track, but after nearly diminishing six years of mysterious pain in only four weeks, it became clear that pursuing a career in pelvic health was the path I needed to follow.
My physical therapist was very passionate about working in an underserved and underrecognized field, and she told me all about how I can become more involved, even as a student. I left physical therapy with my home exercise program and an extensive book list on all things pelvic and women’s health. Not only was I inspired by the art of physical therapy in general, but by how driven my physical therapist was as well. She was angry for me (and for all of her patients) who had long, complicated paths to finding pelvic floor physical therapy.
I hope that through education to the public and more interdisciplinary teamwork in healthcare, pelvic floor dysfunction will be much less taboo of a topic. I believe that pelvic floor physical therapy is a treatment option that should be suggested the first time a patient expresses concern, rather than after years of chief complaints of pelvic pain. By pursuing pelvic health, I plan to work towards both of these goals strenuously.
My experience with endometriosis provided me with the perspective of being the patient. Now, as a student physical therapist, I hope to always remember how that felt. As a patient, my goal was to decrease pain, but I gained much more from the experience. I had new information behind the physiology of the pelvic floor, how dysfunction can happen, how to prevent it from happening again, and more.
When my physical therapist provided me with treatment that truly worked in addition to validation and education, it improved my overall understanding and changed my entire perspective on pain. That is something I aim to achieve with all of my patients some day, and I think it is so important for all physical therapists – and all healthcare workers for that matter – to take a step back every once in a while and remember why they started. I can’t imagine the challenges that await me in the future of my career, but I hope that my initial drive to help people always prevails.
About Katelyn Hickey, SPT
Katelyn Hickey is a first year physical therapy student at Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin. She is a certified personal trainer and completed her Women’s Fitness Specialization certificate through NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine) which she uses while working within the perinatal population at a local gym.