According to research from not-for-profit Jean Hailes for Womens Health, two of the biggest barriers for women not maintaining a healthy lifestyle or practicing adequate self care is ‘lack of time’ and ‘health not being a priority’. We’re leading busier lives than ever before and are prone to feeling guilty. Sometimes we just need to be reminded to put ourselves on our own to-do list!
With this in mind, we’ve hooked up with some of our fav local women in business (including Libby the Women’s Health Physiotherapist) to kick start healthy conversations and offer empowering information! This series of articles is all about:
- Reminding you to put yourself on your own to do list by setting aside time for your own health and wellbeing
- Sparking healthy conversations within our community
- Giving you insight into support that is available to you in your local area
Mother of four and women’s Health Physiotherapist with 15+ years experience Libby specialises in incontinence, pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic floor prolapse, sexual dysfunction and muscular pain & dysfunction.
Tell us a little bit about your role and experience as a Women’s Health Physio.
I’m a physiotherapist who has specialised in the area of women’s health. I did an extra year at uni and have done many courses since to improve my knowledge and skills. I’m very passionate about Women’s Health and spend a lot of my working day talking about very private matters. And I know a lot about pelvic floor exercises!
In 2020, I’ve taken on a mentorship role and I’m helping other physiotherapists improve their women’s health knowledge. My spare time at home, thanks to Covid 19, has been working on a training program for the other physios. The first weekend went really well and we will be doing another in September.
What does a Women’s Health Physio do? Well I know a lot about bodily functions and can help with bladder, bowel and sexual problems. I understand how a woman’s body changes during pregnancy and what she should be focussing on after having a baby.
What’s the most common reason women come and see you?
Women come to see me when they are thinking about getting back to exercise after having a baby. I like to call it a “postnatal checkup”. After a vaginal or caesarean delivery it’s really important to have you abdominal and pelvic floor muscles checked! And it’s especially important you do this BEFORE you start (or return to) running or other high impact exercises.
The abdominal and pelvic floor provide vital support to the pelvis, back and internal organs. If they are weak then women can have symptoms of urine leakage, pelvic organ prolapse (vaginal heaviness or dragging), pelvic pain and poor bowel control.
What (or when) do you wish more women would come and see you?
I wish women would come see me when they have little warning signs that their system might not be coping with the loads of daily life or exercise.
The little leak with a cough or sneeze, or with skipping in a boxing class, should be a motivating factor to get the pelvic floor assessed. Then we can start an individualised program to fix a small problem, rather than waiting many years until a big embarrassing leak, or a prolapse occurs.
The obstetricians and doctors don’t always do a thorough check and the advice of “you can start exercising again – just do it slowly” or “just listen to your body” is so vague it can be very unhelpful!
What’s one of the most common question’s women ask you?
Lots of women will ask me about “how do I know that I am doing my pelvic floor exercises correctly”? They also want to know how many times they need to do it to prevent urine leakage or prolapse problems.
Can you give us your ‘top tips’ for pelvic floor activation?
- Make sure that you relax the Pelvic Floor muscles to start with. Taking some deep belly breaths and being in a relaxed, supported position can help.
- Focus on the right area – the pelvic floor are at the base of your pelvis and in women have three openings (urethra, vagina and anus).
- Try to squeeze and tighten around the urethra, vagina and the anus and lift up inside. Check that your buttocks, legs and upper abdominal muscles stay relaxed. If they are tightening, then try a more gentle squeeze.
- It can help to think of stopping a wee midstream, holding in wind or tightening your vagina around a tampon.
- Hold for up to 10 seconds, then make sure the muscles relax completely.
- Doing multiple repetitions will help maintain strength or build up endurance.
What do you wish all women knew?
I wish all women knew how important a regular bowel habit is and that they should always take their time, relax their belly and pelvic floor, and let the wee or poo come out with no straining. Constipation and regular straining to empty can over time weaken the pelvic floor muscles, cause haemorrhoids and anal fissures, and over time cause a prolapse or incontinence.
I also think it is really important women overcome their fear (or their mum’s training) of public toilets. Women cannot relax their pelvic floor muscles properly if they are semi-squatting over a toilet seat. This can mean they don’t empty their bladder properly and can have a residual left inside. Yes, there are definitely sometimes where that public toilet is NOT to be touched, but the majority of the time, you should sit, relax and take your time to get all the wee out.
The other thing to be careful of is too many “just in case” wees before going out to the shops or to work or on a car journey. Just in case wees tend to encourage your bladder to empty at small volumes.
Are there any ‘common misconceptions’ about WHPs you’d like to debunk?
I think some women avoid seeing a women’s health physio as they are worried about having an internal vaginal examination. We have a really clever machine, called a real time ultrasound, that helps us to visualise what the bladder and pelvic floor muscles are doing. BUT, some women do get a lot more information and help by having a gentle, discreet assessment of the vagina.
Where can women go to get more, good quality, information about things you’ve discussed above?
There are quite a few women’s health physiotherapists working privately and in public hospitals now in Western Australia. There can be a waiting period though, and you need a referral from your GP, to be able to access a Women’s health physio in the public system.
I’m very happy to see anyone local to Bayswater, as it’s a short drive to Yokine. Most women find that after 1-3 sessions, they are nearly independent in their program as I give them the knowledge and skills to make a difference for themselves.
Reach out to Libby!