A Soccer Player’s Journey Into Pelvic Health
In today’s post, I wanted to share my journey into pelvic health with you all. Technically, my pelvic health journey started with my undergraduate career as a Division I women’s soccer player. However, my appreciation for this profession started recently as a Doctor of Physical Therapy student. Before physical therapy school, I had little exposure to pelvic health rehabilitation. My sister was pregnant with her first child at the time, so I knew pelvic health physical therapy was associated with peripartum care – but that was the extent. Nonetheless, despite my limited understanding of the field, I quickly became an advocate.
Skipping ahead to my first semester as a DPT student, during my initial course, which was advanced anatomy, I was eagerly searching the syllabus for any material on pelvic health. Even though I lacked knowledge on the subject, I had a “gut feeling” that pelvic health could be my area of interest. I have to admit; in the past, I tended to neglect to study the pelvis and its corresponding organs in my previous courses because I found it difficult to connect it to physical therapy. I considered this my weakest body system. Predictably, after completing the general anatomy course, I didn’t acquire any new knowledge about pelvic health physical therapy – I still wanted to learn more. It wasn’t until a guest lecturer presented pelvic health therapy in pathophysiology class that I first learned all the amazing things physical therapists could do. In summary, pelvic health physical therapy is used to treat a variety of conditions, including urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, and sexual dysfunction. Urinary incontinence can be defined as any involuntary loss of urine. This type of rehabilitation typically involves exercises and techniques designed to strengthen weak pelvic floor muscles, down-train hyperactive muscles, and improve overall pelvic health and well-being. What stood out to me the most was the correlation between athletes and pelvic floor dysfunction.
At that moment, I had a jaw-dropping realization in the back of the classroom. I leaned over and said to my friend, “Almost all of my soccer teammates had urinary incontinence- including me!” In college, my teammates and I would laugh with each other about a little loss of urine after a fitness test or a shooting drill. It was so common that we assumed it was normal. This guest lecture was incredibly eye-opening for me, and at this point, I upgraded from advocate to obsessed. I researched anything within my curriculum related to the pelvic floor and female athletes. I reached out to mentors, talked with athletes from other sports, attended sessions at CSM, and enrolled in a Pelvic Health Level 1 course. As someone who enjoys attacking my weaknesses, I find it exciting and rewarding to dive deeper into this area of study while balancing a demanding semester of PT school.
My journey into pelvic health may be similar to a lot of you. A story that started once I received valuable education about my own body, which empowered me to speak about it without shame. It is incredible how clinicians can shatter barriers and create a safe environment to discuss challenging topics. Furthermore, I appreciate how this profession embodies the idea that the greatest physician is the patient themselves. Lastly, I value how this field empowers its patients and takes a holistic approach to providing care. As a future healthcare provider, I acknowledge that I am still new to the field of pelvic health and have much to learn. Who knows what kind of provider I will be in the future? However, I can say this: I have a strong interest in treating urinary incontinence in female athletes and educating this population about pelvic health. I pray I can step out in confidence to pursue my goals and continue to deepen my knowledge of pelvic health – I am excited to see where this “gut feeling” takes me.
A side note: I am grateful to all the physical therapists who have generously shared their knowledge and expertise as guest lecturers or clinical instructors during my studies. Your guidance has been invaluable and helped me pursue a career where I hope to “make a difference in the lives of others each day.”
Tarah Phongsavath, SPT (2023 Scholarship Recipient) is a former NCAA Division I Athlete for Missouri State University, where she received her B.S. in Exercise and Movement Science. She is currently a Doctor of Physical Therapy student at The University of Kansas Medical Center, where she is the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Representative for her class. She believes that as community members, “we are obligated to create a culture within our respective communities that positively impacts the lives of all its members.” In pursuing her DPT, she is prioritizing what is most important – serving others and making a difference as often as she can.