By ANNA SMITH Local Journalism Initiative on February 13, 2024.
Roughly 32 per cent of women will experience pelvic floor problems in their lifetime, says physiotherapist Manali Shanbhag, and it’s time more women talk about it.
Shanbhag has a strong connection to the issue, beyond her professional interest in the field, which she believes highlights the prevalence of the stigma surrounding the issue.
“My maternal grandmother lived until she was about 85,” said Shanbhag. “When she was bedridden at that old age, on her deathbed, we found out that she had a pelvic organ prolapse, and she had never shared that with anybody.”
Shanbhag questioned why she hadn’t shared the issue with any of her female family members, and continued to point out that had it been an issue with any other part of the body that had been out of place, it likely would have been discussed and then treated.
Many of the common issues that women face with their pelvic floor are dismissed as normal, said Shanbhag, especially after pregnancy and childbirth, which put considerable strain on these valuable muscles.
“Almost all the women that I have seen, almost 80-90 per cent of them will say, ‘Nobody told me about this before,'” said Shanbhag. “As women, we can lack awareness of what’s happening in this part of our body. It’s something we can work on, to know our bodies better, and what’s normal.”
“Sometimes people share, and admit that they’re having an issue, to their friend or to their doctor, and they’re told that it’s normal and comes with age, or with having a child,” said Shanbhag. “So I think that is something the narrative needs to change. Yes, things can happen. It is common to experience urinary incontinence after childbirth, or pelvic organ prolapse? It’s common. But is it normal? Do you have to live with it? No, there are things we can do about it.”
Between the stigma of discussing the pelvic region and this lack of awareness, it can be easy for even potentially serious issues to slip under the radar.
Medicine Hat has several specialists who can be turned to for help, said Shanbhag, but enough to meet the need regarding these issues, which while less common, can affect male patients as well.
The best thing people can do for themselves and the other women in their lives is to talk more about these issues, said Shanbhag, and to get a strong sense of what normal is for their bodies, much like how it’s possible to self-screen for breast cancer by noticing unusual lumps or discolouration.
“This is for all age groups,” said Shanbhag. “I don’t want people to think it’s only an older women’s issue, or for postpartum women. And sometimes, yes, it will resolve by itself. Your pelvic floor will heal. But we don’t want to just bank on that.”
Shanbhag is the founder and owner of Thrive Physiowellness in Medicine Hat, which opened in November. Shanbhag focuses on pelvic floor health and education, and said she aims to be a centre for various women’s health fixes in the future.