Physical Therapy for Women

Meet two Memorial physical therapists focused on women’s health.

Meet Debi Schneider, physical therapist.

I’m a physical therapist with Memorial Hospital, and I’ve been doing women’s health issues for over 20 years. I’m a certified manual lymphatic drainage therapist, and I’ve been trained in various classes related to pelvic health. 

Meet Stephanie Hemker, physical therapist.

I’m a physical therapist here at Memorial Hospital. I specialize in treating patients that have issues with pelvic floor dysfunction. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that sit in the lower pelvis. They aid in urination, defecation, and sexual function, and they also help to support the pelvis, the hips, and the low back. 

What are some of the women’s health issues you treat?

With women’s health issues as they relate to physical therapy, we are experts on exercise. If someone has had any issues with breast health, generally we want to focus on what the muscular issues are, what the postural issues are, and what the body mechanics are. With incontinence, we’re also focusing on the muscular aspect more so than other things that the doctors might focus on, including what can we do exercise wise to get rid of pain, what can we do to decrease the incidence of incontinence, and what can we do to improve sexual health.

Sometimes patients have issues where their pelvic floor is weak. These patients may complain of urine leakage when they cough, laugh, sneeze, jump, or exercise. Some other people may have a more upregulated pelvic floor that’s overactive and may complain of pain issues. They may have pain in the pelvic region, with intercourse, or even when just sitting too long, standing too long, or any activity that they do throughout the day.

How can you improve women’s day-to-day lives?

Whether it’s breast health or pelvic floor health, we’re dealing with the muscular aspect and returning people back to their normal activities that maybe they could not do. We have a lady coming in now who can no longer fish because of her breast surgery, and she wants to go fishing. She doesn’t have the ability to do that, so we’re dealing with the muscular aspect of those different areas of the body. 

The first thing we’ll do will be very similar for anybody that comes in with low back pain. Because the pelvic floor muscles sit within the pelvis, we’ll look at the alignment of their pelvis, alignment of their spine, and at the strength of their core and hip girdle muscle. Also, we’ll look at how they breathe because there’s a close relationship between the pelvic floor and the muscles that you use to breathe. From there, we will also typically request a pelvic exam. The reason for that is that the pelvic floor muscles are located within the pelvis, and that’s the best way to find out what’s going on with them. However, if the patient does not want an internal exam, that’s not a problem. We have other techniques that we can utilize as well.

Why do you do what you do?

Since entering into physical therapy, it’s probably the most rewarding part of my life. The breast cancer patients have such a new outlook on life that we learn from them daily. The incontinence patients are suffering from being unable to get back to regular activities. To return them back to greater levels of doing things they want to do is just very, very rewarding. 

The issues people come to me with are issues that they’re afraid to talk about. They’re things that they’re embarrassed about. They think they’re alone. To be a listening ear, a guiding voice to let them know that they’re not alone and they don’t have to live with these problems and that there are things that we can do, and to be able to impact their life on such a personal level makes it even that much more rewarding. You know that you’re not just taking away pain. You’re changing their life.