I grew up in a large family and a small town where it seems like someone is always pregnant or just had a baby. Being around this population of women all the time and hearing their struggles and stories always made me want to be so supportive and helpful in any way I could. Since I lived in a small town, there were not many resources available besides other family members when it came to all the pregnancy and postpartum questions. I remember hearing jokes between mothers along the lines of “Are you even a mom if you don’t pee a little when you laugh?”. At the time I didn’t know any differently and just assumed this was normal. Fast forward to PT school, the pelvic floor and women’s health lectures really resonated with me. I was so shocked when one of the guest speakers mentioned that when a woman tears her pelvic floor muscles giving birth, that is basically some of the only muscles you can tear in your body and not automatically get referred to physical therapy. She also very clearly stated that it is not, in fact, normal to pee a little when you laugh, even if you have had children. When thinking about women’s health in that way, I knew I wanted to do something more to help these women. I started doing tons of research on my own and using what I knew from PT school to learn exercises and simple strategies I could teach my patients with these issues until I could become certified in pelvic floor therapy. Then last semester during one of my clinical rotations, I figured out an older woman patient of mine with chronic low back pain also had incontinence issues. I was thrilled when I was able to help both issues simply by incorporating breath work, transverse abdominis engagement, and pelvic floor contractions. Even with the little knowledge I had at the time, I was able to help her so much. I also had a patient who was a young mother pregnant with her second child. She came to PT for reported SI joint pain, which she had also had with her first pregnancy, but it had never been addressed. Again, even with what I knew then, I was able to help her. It was such a fulfilling experience for me. I was already very interested in pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, but this patient and the chats we had made me dive into this area even more. The conversations with her and reports from other pelvic health PTs made me realize how little mothers are screened or checked for these pregnancy/birth-related issues. It was also upsetting to learn there are many women whose perineal area didn’t even get checked at their 6-week postpartum follow-up. And I was shocked at how little nutrition education some of these women who are trying to conceive, are pregnant, or are postpartum receive. I have a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, and it is another passion of mine, so I am excited to be able to incorporate that knowledge into my practice as well. These conversations and experiences motivate me so much to be a great physical therapist and help these women in any way I can. I have now completed my Level 1 Pelvic Health PT certificate, and I plan to dive into the obstetric courses next. I can’t wait to help this population and bring this area of physical therapy to a rural clinic after I graduate.
Author: Theresa Schraad, SPT
Author Bio: I am a third-year Doctor of Physical Therapy student at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Prior to PT school, I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and a Bachelor’s in Kinesiology with a Secondary in Gerontology from Kansas State University. I am passionate about addressing the overall health and well-being of an individual and am known to be very chatty with my patients. When I’m not studying, I can be found hanging out with my husband and our two dogs.