I am a 41 year old male, have been married for 13 years, and have two children under the age of 6. I’m sharing this because I feel it’s important for men, their partners, and family to become more educated and empowered to take care of themselves despite the challenges that our own perceptions, those of society, and the healthcare system put in our way. You may or may not identify with my issues, but I hope you’ll come away from this with a feeling that there are others out there like yourself, and you do have the ability to heal yourself.
I started my therapy at Hands On a little over a year ago after picking them off of a list that my urologist gave me….thank goodness I picked them! I went to my urologist because I’d been having unexplained perineal, scrotal, and penis pain for about a year. I’ve had a varicocele in my left scrotum for 20 years, so I’d chalked the pain up to that, but the normal ways I dealt with that pain had not been working, so I booked the appointment. In addition, my father was diagnosed (and successfully treated) with prostate cancer at a very young age. So I figured that going to a specialist to get checked in addition to my normal physicals wouldn’t be a bad idea. As I filled out the paperwork before my initial urologic appointment, I realized just how messed up I was.
As I was checking off the symptoms, it became apparent that I had a lot of issues going on in my pelvic region. Here’s the list of symptoms…bare with me. Urinary incontinence, erectile dysfunction, perineal pain, scrotal pain, penis pain (flaccid and erect), painful ejaculation, low back pain, prostatic fluid discharge, stomach and pubic bone pain, constipation and diarrhea. Sounds like a nightmare, huh? I’d been living with these symptoms for years….long enough that they’d snuck up on me, and I attributed it to things like food allergies and getting old. I didn’t (don’t) necessarily have all of these symptoms at the same time, and they ranged from a 4-9 on the pain scale. They just kind of snuck up on me until I got to the point where a few of them were unbearable. Two other things you should know that I now know have played a big role in my pelvic floor issues. I had a double hernia operation when I was six months old. So I’ve been living with scar tissue just above the pelvis for my entire life. And, I have had severe food allergies my entire life. Not the kind of allergies where you fall over and can’t breath, but more of an inability to properly digest most foods, therefore making it difficult to get nutrition and to have bowel movements. Because of this condition, I’d been doing enemas and having regular colonics for 20 years. I’m not dogging that practice, because it saved my life in my 20’s, but I hadn’t been able to have a bowel movement on my own for 20 years and previous to that, I was either constipated or had diarrhea for my entire life.
I visited with my urologist and shared my symptoms. After a talk about my overall health and sexual history, she conducted a urinalysis, a digital rectal exam, and exam of the penis and scrotum. The treatment plan was steroids for 10 days, antibiotics for 1 month, told to ejaculate regularly (to “keep the pipes clear”-I never knew this was important until having these issues), advised to wear a scrotal support, and given a variety pack of erectile dysfunction pills to try. Interestingly, and I don’t know if it matters or not, but I was never given a clear “diagnosis.” As a side note: In dealing with my urologist, I’ve been reminded that you have to be your own advocate when it comes to your health and dealing with doctors. While I think my urologist has a good “bedside manner” and is quite competent, if I don’t ask all the questions I have and tell her all of my symptoms, they won’t get addressed. If I don’t follow up on lab results, they won’t be explained. If I don’t ask about alternative therapies, they won’t be given. I have to remember that it’s my body, and I need to be bold and take the time I need to get my issues addressed when dealing with my health.
After a month, I went back to her without any change in my symptoms and she suggested I try going to a physical therapist. She said, “they do some amazing things stretching and working on pain in that area.” So I took her list, checked it against my insurance, and picked Hands On.
My initial visit at Hands On left me with the idea that, over time, with their treatments and my own work at home, I could heal. My therapist explained a lot about the pelvic floor, what it contains, what it does, and how getting it to function properly would help me with my problems. My initial assessment included checking range of motion for pretty much my whole body, checking to see if my pelvis was aligned, checking for pain and tightness in my stomach and pelvis, and an internal exam to check the condition of the muscles within the pelvic floor. There was nothing uncomfortable about the assessment, and really, the whole process was an eye opener. I was overwhelmed with how little I knew about how all my muscles, organs, and fascia interacted with each other. How what I considered my “stomach muscles” could affect my pelvis. How pain in the penis or perineum might be referred there by a problem in another part of the pelvic floor. How my 40 year old hernia scar tissue might be causing issues within the pelvic floor. Most importantly, I learned about fascia and how all of these muscles, organs, and nerves are connected. Not only in the pelvic floor, but throughout my entire body.
The therapists at Hands On have been successfully treating and coaching me in my healing ever since. My treatments have included internal and external myofascial release as well as instruction on stretches and internal work that I do at home. Lately, I’ve also started receiving dry needling from Jody and acupuncture from an offsite therapist, and I think these additional therapies have been a good complement to the myofascial work.
If you have yet to be treated for pelvic floor issues then you should know that one part of the treatment can include internal therapy. For men, the therapist inserts a gloved finger into the rectum and manipulates the fascia within the pelvic floor. I want to make the point that this therapy is no more painful or uncomfortable than them working on the fascia in your legs, stomach, or shoulders. It’s simply the way to access these muscles and fascia. I feel it’s important to mention this because if you want to heal, I believe you should embrace all the tools and methods available to you.
The internal treatments have been successful for me but are by no means the only things I’ve been doing. Treatments change from visit to visit depending on what my body is doing at the time, so many of my treatment sessions do not include internal work, but work on external areas around the legs, pelvis, stomach, shoulders, back etc. My uneducated, simple explanation is that because your entire body is one web of fascia, working other areas beyond where you hurt will help release and bring healing to the areas that do hurt.
I think the work I do at home is just as important, or maybe even more important, than the treatments. The therapists have taught me to do everything from using a ball to stretch my psoas, to doing internal therapy at home to work on pain and relaxing my pelvic floor. I have to remember that healing takes time. In my case, we’re working on issues that became acute in recent times but stem from a lifetime of chronic illness and injury. So, should I expect it all to go away after a few treatments? No way. It takes time to undo a lifetime of issues and build yourself back up. I try to remember this, take my time, and work on my issues a little at a time. I know that the work I do at home is really important because it is the work that continues on a daily basis between visits to Hands On. This is the work where I’m retraining myself to do things right.
I won’t lie, it’s been a roller coaster of ups and downs—emotional and physical high points and low points—two steps forward, one back. But, when I look at the overall outcome, it’s moving toward success. Success in the sense that I have less pain and fewer symptoms. Success in the sense that I know my body is slowly healing itself. Success in the sense that I am beginning to be able to listen to what my body is telling me and help it heal. Success in the sense that I’m moving through mental hurdles that have kept me from talking about many of these issues with others. I’m not “cured,” and I don’t know that I ever will be without pain somewhere in my body. What I do know is that through my work at Hands On, I’m gaining the knowledge and ability to let myself heal, and I will be using that knowledge for the rest of my life.
The healing that has taken place for me thus far would not be possible without the staff at Hands On. The first thing that stands out is the passion they have for their work. I have yet to meet another individual, much less a group of individuals, in the healthcare profession that display a true passion for helping their patients heal. They have this great ability to combine clinical professionalism with care and concern. The biggest thing that sets them apart from anywhere else I’ve been, or anything else I’ve done, is that each of them has been where I am. That’s not to say that they have my precise ailments, but they are all patients as well as therapists. They’ve all been on the table experiencing the same feelings I do. They’ve all experienced the same two steps forward one step back roller coaster I seem to ride throughout my healing process. And they all got into this work because this work has and continues to help them.
Where am I now? I’m doing much better. I had a setback with another bout of bacterial prostatitis, which meant another month of antibiotics, but we’ve worked through that (for now) at this point. My incontinence has gone down to being almost nonexistent. I’m still working on the erectile dysfunction—it’s hit or miss, but I have confidence that I won’t need medication in the near future. My perineal, scrotal, and penis pain are way better, too. Some days it’s down to nothing, other days it flares up, but never to the point where it was a year ago and never for more than a few days. The pain with erections seems to be better as of late, too. I still have painful ejaculations but have confidence that this will go away soon. Stomach and pubic bone pain are gone. Low back pain only flares up on occasion and will usually go away fairly easily. I rarely have the prostatic fluid discharge. As for constipation and diarrhea? As for the enemas and colonics? I haven’t had an enema or colonic in a year and am doing well learning/retraining myself to have normal bowel functions. So, overall, I’d say I’m doing pretty darn well –keeping in mind that when these issues come back or flare up, to stay patient and work through them. None of this would have happened without the help of the great people at Hands On.
When Jody asked me to write about some of my experiences, she said that I could do so anonymously. It does, after all, address a lot of issues that are considered “personal” or “private” or make people uncomfortable to talk about. I’m one of them, but through my healing process, I’ve realized that part of the reason there are a lot of us out there who are needlessly living with pain and dysfunction, is that we’ve been taught not to discuss our health issues with others….from family, to friends, to doctors. Particularly not to discuss normal bodily functions contained within the pelvic floor. We are raised and educated in a society where it’s uncomfortable if not “wrong” to talk about all of the functions that take place in this area….from comfortably being able to eliminating our body’s waste, to having the ability to experience pleasure and/or procreate through erection and ejaculation. But these are all functions just like breathing, hearing, raising your arm, or bending over to pick something up. If your shoulder hurt so much you couldn’t pick something up, you’d tell your friend. Your friend would help you with advice, etc. But would you tell your friend that your perineum or penis hurt? Would you tell them you couldn’t get or sustain an erection? Not likely. But, if all your bodily functions were as easy to talk about as an earache, don’t you think more of us would seek help before things became acute? I think so. So, for that reason, I’m encouraging myself and I encourage you, to speak more openly about your body and what you’re feeling. And as I take this step in my healing process, I’ll sign off, thank you for reading, and not be anonymous.