Physical therapy with a focus on women’s health is a unique subset of this rehabilitative field of medicine that promotes and enhances health throughout a woman’s lifespan.
Like other types of physical therapy, women’s health physical therapy treats functional problems, yet also encompasses proactive services, such as therapies designed to prepare pregnant women for an easier delivery and recovery. Women’s health physical therapy supports all women, from the young athlete to the post-menopausal senior.
Women’s health physical therapy address many of the issues and conditions that tend to affect women disproportionately:
- Post-gynecological surgery
- Post-abdominal surgery
- Bladder/bowel issues
- Pregnancy/post-partum issues
- Bowel incontinence
- Breast cancer
- Pelvic health
Women’s health physical therapy focuses on treating female patients dealing with:
- Prenatal discomfort
- Pelvic pain
- Pelvic floor weakness
- Post-partum discomfort
- Painful intercourse
- Episiotomy pain
- Pelvic organ prolapse
- Urinary/bowel incontinence
- Chronic constipation
- Tailbone pain
- Perimenopause/menopause symptoms
- Endometriosis pain
Women’s Health Physical Therapy Treatments and Programs
Physical therapist assistants in women’s health—working under the guidance and supervision of licensed physical therapists—help women with problems related to urination, sexual intercourse, post-partum recovery, and cancer recovery, among many others. Gynecologists, obstetricians, and urologists are just a few of the doctors who frequently refer patients to physical therapists specializing in women’s health.
For many women, physical therapy provides an alternative to surgery and pain medications, while for others it improves strength, mobility, range of motion, independence, and quality of life. Still others seek physical therapy when recovering from surgeries, procedures, and childbirth.
Physical therapist assistants provide a wide array of therapies aimed at issues affecting women. Just a few of the treatments provided by physical therapist assistants include:
- Urinary incontinence: Treatments include strengthening exercises for weakened pelvic floor muscles, biofeedback training, and education on diet and lifestyle modifications
- Chronic pelvic pain: Treatments include muscle strengthening and relaxation exercises, spinal/pelvic alignment corrections, biofeedback training, and soft tissue massage
- Prenatal and postnatal care: Treatments include exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles, massages, and education on proper body mechanics as to prevent back pain
- Lymphedema: Treatments include exercises, manual lymphatic drainage, compression bandaging, scar massage, and education on wound care and home exercises
- Osteoporosis: Treatments include weight-bearing exercises and education on techniques for reducing the risk of falling
- Breast cancer care: Treatments include exercises to improve range of motion, muscle tightness, and shoulder strength
- Diastasis recti: Treatments include exercises to strengthen the abdominal muscles and splinting to assist with the separation of the muscles
Training, Certification, and Education Options for PTAs Working in Women’s Health
The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties offers a professional certification in women’s health for physical therapists. Physical therapists who have earned this designation have demonstrated proficiency in evaluating and treating a variety of women’s health issues.
Although physical therapist assistants are not eligible to achieve this designation, they can earn valuable experience in women’s health physical therapy by working for licensed physical therapists that have attained the ABPTS certification in women’s health. Just a few of the settings where physical therapist assistants work in women’s health include:
- Physical therapy practices
- Rehabilitation centers
- Assisted living facilities/nursing homes
- Fitness centers
In addition, physical therapy students in a physical therapist assisting associate’s degree program also often choose to focus their elective courses on women’s health. These PTAs also often focus their continuing education on women’s health issues.
Becoming a member of the American Physical Therapy Association’s Section on Women’s Health provides physical therapist assistants with a multitude of opportunities to advance their knowledge of women’s health and network with other professionals dedicated to the specialty.
A sampling of some of the continuing education courses available through the Women’s Health Section of the APTA include:
- Advanced Topics of Pregnancy and Postpartum Physical Therapy
- Considerations and Interventions for Intrapartum Support
- Pelvic Physical Therapy
- Lymphedema Management in Women’s Health
- Osteoporosis: Prevention and Management
- Physical Therapy Management of High-Risk Pregnancy