You’ve heard of a personal trainer and a vocal coach, but exactly what is a women’s health physio? “More commonly known as a physio in pelvic health, a women’s health physiotherapist has further training in the areas of continence and pelvic health,” explains physio and Poise Pledge ambassador Caitlin Dunsford.
What does a pelvic floor physio do?
Women’s health physiotherapists have additional specialised knowledge which equips them to manage a wide array of conditions that affect the pelvic area. They work one-on-one with female patients to address any concerns about loss of bladder control, incontinence and other pelvic health issues.
“A qualified physiotherapist has to complete post-graduate university study or professional development courses on top of their physio degree,” Caitlin explains.
What conditions does a women’s health physio help treat and manage?
With advanced training in continence and pelvic health management, a women’s health physiotherapist plays a crucial role in wellbeing for women of all ages and life stages.
“Conditions a women’s health physiotherapist can assess and treat include urinary incontinence, faecal incontinence, pelvic pain, endometriosis, dyspareunia (painful intercourse) and pelvic organ prolapse,” Caitlin says. “They also play an important part in education and prevention during major female life stages such as pregnancy, childbirth and menopause.”
How effective is working with a women’s health physio for managing incontinence?
One of the strengths of women’s health physiotherapy lies in its ability to provide personalised treatment plans taking into account factors such as severity of symptoms, underlying causes and personal goals for tailored outcomes.
“Studies suggest 70 to 74 percent improvement or cure in symptoms of urinary incontinence across all age groups when pelvic floor muscle training is performed appropriately,” Caitlin says. “This means that it is assessed and prescribed by a physiotherapist or similar professional and supervised for a minimum of 12 weeks. Smaller efficacies are reported in unsupervised or leaflet-based exercise programs.”
Either way, in-person and online or remote women’s health physio-led programs focus on holistic wellbeing to foster a sense of empowerment and active participation in your own health journey.
How much does a private consultation with a women’s health physio usually cost?
“In the major cities across Australia, women’s health physiotherapy will cost on average $200 per hour,” Caitlin says.
Do I need a referral from a GP to see a women’s health physio?
“If seeing a private women’s health physiotherapist and paying privately you do not require a referral,” Caitlin says. “If you wish to access services in a state-based hospital, or utilise Medicare funding, you’ll require a referral from a GP.”
Even if you’re planning to book and pay privately, talking to your GP can be useful to find a local women’s health physiotherapy service and ensure good continuity of care. This is especially important to consider if you take regular medications since some drugs can be associated with urinary urgency and incontinence.1
How often do I need to see a women’s health physio? Is it ongoing?
“This is dependent on the condition you are seeing the physiotherapist for. If you are seeing a women’s health physiotherapist during pregnancy as preparation for childbirth and/or as part of your postpartum self-care then you will likely only need one to two appointments during your pregnancy and a postpartum follow up,” Caitlin says. “If you are seeing a women’s health physiotherapist for bladder leakage, you will likely need regular appointments to assess your condition, implement a treatment plan and then reassess after a period of 12 weeks.”
What resources are available online if I can’t see a women’s health physio one-on-one?
The Poise Pledge campaign by Kimberly-Clark offers the Pelvic Floor Support Hub, which is an educational resource to help women manage bladder leakage and symptoms of incontinence.
“Accessed online at poise.com.au, the hub contains an interactive bladder leakage quiz to help align women with the right evidence-based information based on their symptoms,”
Caitlin says. “It also gives women access to a free 12-week pelvic floor muscle training program. The program is designed by a physiotherapist in women’s health and contains pelvic floor muscle exercises that are used frequently in clinic to treat urinary incontinence.”
Once I’ve learned how to strengthen my pelvic floor, should I continue training or wait until I notice symptoms again?
“The program is designed to be used alongside a health professional such as a GP, women’s health physio or gynaecologist,” Caitlin says. “Pelvic floor muscle training has the best chance of treating bladder leaks if the exercises have been assessed and are done correctly. Urinary incontinence can also occur for many reasons, and a weak pelvic floor isn’t the only reason someone may leak urine. A full assessment can help women identify any other risk factors that need to be addressed at the same time (constipation, chronic coughing, weight gain, urinary tract infections, etc).”
Like other forms of exercise, the best results are achieved with regular practice.
“Pelvic floor exercise can be thought of as exercising for weight loss: there needs to be a consistent practice to help maintain results,” Caitlin says. “A saying used often in the physio world is “if you don’t use it, you lose it”. Often women will do an intensive pelvic floor muscle training program for 12 weeks then integrate some basic pelvic floor exercise into a warm up before regular exercise one to two times a week. Then they may revisit the 12-week program in the following year if symptoms worsen again.”
Women’s health physiotherapy can play a vital role in enhancing the lives of Australian women through improved pelvic floor health to regain confidence for a better quality of life.
- HealthDirect. Urinary incontinence [Internet]. 2023 [cited July 11 2023]. Available from https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/urinary-incontinence