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How Physical Therapy Can Support Gender-Affirming Care

September 25, 2023

While physical therapy itself does not treat gender dysphoria, rehab professionals can play an integral part in a person’s journey.

Laura Robbins, a physical therapist in the Hartford HealthCare Rehabilitation Network, specializes in pelvic health and helped organize the comprehensive Gender Health program.

“Physical therapy is an absolutely essential part of anyone’s care plan if they are undergoing gender-affirming surgeries. Without proper post-operation intervention, they are less likely to be successful with healing their new anatomy, preventing scar tissue and preventing issues like incontinence,” Robbins notes.

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What specifically can physical therapy do to support gender-affirming care?

Many people don’t understand that the network of pelvic floor muscles, nerves and connective tissue is very complex . This network of muscles performs several important functions such as pelvic organ support, bladder and bowel control. When there is a muscular imbalance here, patients can suffer from:

  • Incontinence
  • Organ prolapses
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Pelvic pain
  • Failed healing

When this happens, patients often to turn to a specially trained therapist like Robbins.

In addition, she says pelvic health therapists can help transgender post-op patients with:

  • Prevention of infection, swelling and urine leaking
  • Assessing flexibility and strength
  • Myofascial release – a type of manual therapy that aims to loosen muscles that are too tight
  • Learning core and postural exercises that will strengthen supporting muscles needed for proper functioning

> Related: 4 Ways to Recover When You Misgender Someone

How else can rehab help me?

The Rehab Network team also supports gender-affirming care through voice therapy and occupational therapy.

Speech therapists can help individuals:

  • Modify their voice by addressing pitch and communication style
  • Maintain vocal health
  • Avoid vocal cord injury as they develop vocal and communication skills

Occupational therapists – after evaluating each patient’s transition needs – design personalized treatment plans that include:

  • Care after chest surgery
  • Addressing swelling, scar management and upper body strengthening

When providers have a thorough understanding of the unique care needs someone undergoing a transition has, they may be more apt to refer the person to other beneficial resources, Robbins says.

“Every provider, regardless of discipline, needs to be comfortable treating anyone who identifies as LGBTQ+, and understand the fact that not everyone will be as open and comfortable discussing their needs. Providers must be keenly aware of how to support them,” she says.