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Chronic pelvic pain can affect anyone and 2 women are working to spread the word

As a previous decade-long columnist for the Williamsport Sun-Gazette, Diane Langley has always been dedicated to helping others navigate through life’s changes, big or small. On top of her column, “Life’s Changes,” Langley also held “Navigating Life Changes,” a monthly workshop that helped people in a similar fashion, but in a face-to-face atmosphere by request of her readers.

In research for one of her workshops, Diane met Amy Vandermark, a pelvic floor rehabilitation specialist at UPMC Susquehanna.

She treats both adult and pediatric pelvic pain and bowel/bladder dysfunction, disorders and those who have had surgery or procedures in regards to that region of the body.

Vandermark, like Langley, also leads a support group for pelvic pain that she established years back. Fortunately for Langley, contacting Vandermark not only brought her to the support group as a speaker, but also helped Langley discover something about herself.

“She actually contacted me to be a speaker in her support group that she was establishing, which was the ‘Navigating Life’s Changes,’ for those that have gone through some form of trauma,” Vandermark said.

For the group, Vandermark added that she would be speaking about the link between certain traumatic experiences, sexual or physical, that can be associated with chronic pelvic pain. With a deep understanding of this link, Vandermark seemed the perfect fit to be a guest speaker at Langley’s group.

“Through speaking with each other, she decided to come to one of my groups and listen in, and it hit her that some of the things she is dealing with are chronic pelvic pain,” Vandermark said.

Langley, once she discovered her possible condition, turned to her primary care physician, Thomas Wallace, for a referral to see Vandermark. Before Wallace agreed, he first referred her to see OB/GYN Natasha Alligood-Percoco to rule out any other possible issues.

Alligood-Percoco, after a medical assessment, determined Langley needed surgery and then sent her to Vandermark for post-surgical physical therapy.

Through their time together in physical therapy appointments, an unexpected friendship began to blossom. Vandermark and Langley both continued their shared passion of helping others and partnered to educate their community that there is help out there for people suffering from chronic pelvic pain.

“I think we have moved from a patient and clinician relationship to more of a like professional network ability,” Vandermark said. “She and I will collaborate and go back and forth on various topics.”

The work the pair completes together ranges from support groups to prenatal class information sessions.

“We educate in a prenatal class. That is one thing we do. Educate on pelvic pain, urinary incontinence, and the pelvic floor,” said Vandermark. “I think we reach so many first time moms because we tend to see pelvic floor disfunction after they have their baby.”

Vandermark continued to emphasize the importance of reaching the first time mothers “right off the bat” to ensure they are not only educated for their own health, but for their child’s health as well.

“From there, we can educate them as well that children can have these problems too,” said Vandermark. “When they are potty training their children, if they are having any difficulty then they can come in and see me for that as well.”

According to Vandermark, herself and Victoria Hurwitz, UPMC Williamsport Regional medical Center, have also focused their marketing to primary care physicians to build a relationship within the UPMC system to ensure an efficient process of getting those who are suffering.

Langley emphasized the importance of just simply speaking with people and making them knowledgeable of the condition and help that is out there for those in need of it.

“I talk to people about it, I speak with my group about it, but I have not written about it yet,” said Langley. “I try to refer people to Amy and the others in the system who specialize in the pelvic floor area.”

Langley, through her own experiences, spoke passionately of her want to continue to help those who are in the mental and medical position she was in prior to meeting Amy and working closely with her.

“I want to continue to work with people on being able to be advocates for their own health,” said Langley. “I know they often put off their own needs to be caregivers for other people. So I am trying to encourage people to talk with their doctors if they have some kind of problem.”

Before meeting Vandermark, Langley could not have imagined the full scope that her type of physical therapy could benefit.

“If parents have a child that is a bed wetter, she can help them,” said Langley. “If people are having pain for different kinds of reasons, particularly because of trauma to that area, whether somebody was in an accident or somebody was sexually assaulted, she can help them.”

Vandermark agreed with the important fact that not only women, but men and children can also be in need of healing from chronic pelvic pain.

“In general, it should be known that men, women and children can have pelvic floor dysfunction, but in regards to pelvic pain, all three can have this condition,” said Vandermark.

Pelvic floor dysfunction can be found in one-third of women in the United States, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The chronic pelvic pain can be defined by the burning or pain lasting longer than 6 months in the lower abdomen, genitals, vagina, perineum, anus or lower back.

Many patients with chronic pelvic pain go untreated, as many believe there is little to no treatment available. It is estimated, according to the national institute, that nearly 61 percent of chronic pelvic pain goes without diagnosis all together.

For those suffering from one or more of the symptoms listed, Vandermark highlighted the importance of speaking with a primary car physician as a start. According to Vandermark, there are multiple clinics in the area including: Victoria Hurwitz, UPMC Williamsport Regional Medical Center; Shari Berthold, Costello Center Physical Therapy, Divine Providence Campus; Brooke Patt, Tioga County; and Barbra Rouse, Tioga County.

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