Too embarrassed to talk to your doctor about those sudden urges to go to the bathroom or pain during sex? Don’t be afraid, said Haleigh Jackson, a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor health at Liberty Hospital.

“These are common issues, and often people think they are the only ones dealing with them,” Jackson said. She knows from both personal and professional experience how common pelvic health issues are.

“My own personal pelvic health issues are what led me to become interested in exercise science and physical therapy as a career,” said Jackson, who has a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa, and completed further coursework to treat specialty pelvic floor conditions through the American Physical Therapy Association. “I can relate to the feelings of embarrassment and thought I was the only one dealing with my issue until I went to physical therapy school and learned how common it really is.”

Unfortunately, she said, people often put off seeking health care for too long and that can make pain worse or create other problems. Sometimes, the issue — such as leakage when sneezing or coughing — are so common, people assume it’s a normal part of getting older or having given birth and don’t know there is help that does not involve surgery.

“Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about pelvic floor options to improve urinary or sexual function,” she said. “There are physical therapy treatments to improve many conditions involving the pelvic floor.”

Common conditions include:

• Stress incontinence — urinary leakage when sneezing or coughing.

• Urgency incontinence — sudden and increased urgency to go. “It’s called Key in the Lock Syndrome,” Jackson said. “When you’re trying to get the key in as fast as you can so you can run to the bathroom (because) you feel like you can’t wait.”

• Fecal incontinence — stool leakage when passing gas or feeling like you don’t have control of your bowels.

• Rectal, vaginal or vulvar pain.

• Prostate issues resulting in symptoms related to urinary, bowel or sexual function, which also may include pain.

• Pain with sexual activity.

• Pregnancy-related issues during or after pregnancy.

If surgery is needed, pelvic floor strengthening can help before or after the surgery to improve outcomes and recovery.

“I understand pelvic-specific treatment can sound scary, so I modify treatments to the patient’s comfort level and provide treatment in a private room,” Jackson said. “They don’t have to talk to anybody else but me and they can say anything they want to me. I’ve either heard it before or I have experienced it.”

Jackson is the only pelvic floor specialist in the Northland and provides services at Liberty Hospital Sports Medicine or Norterre Outpatient Therapy. Visits require a referral from a primary care provider, gynecologist or urologist.

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