In our inaugural Healers + Hope Dealers™ Spotlight, we’re delighted to share our interview of Dr. Abby Bales, a women’s health physical therapist in NYC. Read on to learn all about her, and contact her directly with questions!
Please introduce yourself to our readers. What makes you YOU?
I’m Dr. Abby Bales, PT, DPT, CSCS and I’m the owner and founder of Reform Physical Therapy in New York City. What makes me ME is moving my body, loving my two children, and being challenged and supported by my husband. I’m a longtime athlete and marathon runner but I also like to lift heavy things at the gym and in classes. I guess I like to feel strong. When I feel physically strong, I feel brave. That’s the essence of me.
Why "Reform"? What your practice name mean for you and for your patients?
My body has gone through many iterations of “starting over”. No kidding, I’ve needed more help walking down the halls of hospitals in my life than your average 38 year old, so I know intimately what it’s like to have my body ripped apart only to have to put it back together over and over again. To “reform” it, if you will. I don’t believe any of our bodies “go back” after babies, but we can absolutely reform our bodies and move forward stronger than ever.
What ignited your passion for women's health? Was it a personal, educational, professional experience -- or something else?
When I was in PT school, my friends started having babies and sharing their concerns about returning to sport after delivery. There seemed to be pelvic floor PTs who could deal with the immediate issues following birth, but not as many who could bridge the gap between regaining continence or reducing pain and, say, running a marathon.
Aside from being obsessed with the pelvis, I feel uniquely qualified to bridge that gap because of my extensive experience training athletes and specializing in pelvic health. It helps that I have had two children myself and spend my time nerding out with Ob/gyns, endocrinologists, lactation specialists and others about the intersection of our fields. Women’s health really incorporates everything I love to learn about medicine and sports.
You offer concierge pelvic physical therapy. Why was it important to you to offer in-home options for women? Does the in-home environment change your relationship or the treatment experience at all?
Moms are stretched incredibly thin. Between newborn doctor appointments, sometimes nursing or pumping, sometimes working, never sleeping, and recovering from delivery, it is the most demanding job both physically and emotionally. And moms often put themselves last on the list for keeping up with their own health. I wanted to make it as easy as possible for moms to have access to my appointments, and by offering in-home appointments, I am able to serve more patients than just an in-clinic practice.
I think it’s also a more relaxing experience for mom. She’s not worrying about baby at home with a new caretaker or being on a pumping schedule that might be thrown off by the unreliable subways of NYC. Whatever she needs to do, she can do during our appointment.
What are the most common pelvic health issues that impact your patients
Incontinence, pain, and pelvic organ prolapse. Those are typically the big three after birth, though they may also be present during pregnancy.
Do you ever get embarrassed talking about pelvic and sexual health all day? How can women feel less embarrassed bringing these topics up with their providers?
Because this is my profession and I see it as a medical issue, I have no qualms about discussing bathroom habits, discharge, sexual positions, abuse, or anything else with my patients. If I seem uncomfortable talking about it, my patients would certainly not trust me with their most personal medical history. My professionalism is the key to unlocking the why of so many problems my patient may be experiencing.
I want my patients to understand that their pelvic health is important. Sexual intercourse should be pleasurable. Jumping shouldn’t cause urination. Sitting for more than 15 minutes shouldn’t hurt. Validating their problem as real and treatable goes a long way to giving them the courage to seek out and discuss it with a medical professional. I think when an issue is labeled as “silly” or “not a big deal” women feel more sheepish about asking for help.
Many women think some pelvic floor dysfunction is a "normal" part of becoming a mother. What do you say to these women?
IT IS NOT AND WE CAN TREAT YOUR SYMPTOMS!
At Inspire Santé™, we believe strongly that women are unfailingly resilient. However, today's cultural and political environment is causing many of our US-based readers to feel some anxiety about topics relating to bodily autonomy, sexual health, or past traumas. Have you seen this impacting your patients, and if so, what are some of the ways that you have reassured them of their safety as you continue their treatments?
My patients and I talk a lot about the USA Gymnastics scandal, the #MeToo movement, and the United States’ maternity mortality rate, among other things. I have treated women of color who had preeclampsia and I told them if they feel off and need to go to the ER, that they should refuse to leave until their Ob has been called and cleared them to go home.
My patients have my cell phone number and they know I would advocate for them anywhere, any time. But they also know that my office is a safe place for them to share anything that’s going on. What’s happening in our country brings us to tears sometimes. Our children’s struggles are sometimes more than we can bear alone. Sexual history can be upsetting. Pelvic health brings up so many emotions and memories, that I am always ready spend time listening instead of physically treating. Sometimes listening IS treating.
women’s health physical therapist
Where to find + reach Dr. Abby Bales:
@reformptnyc on social media and reformptnyc.com or firstname.lastname@example.org