Local physiotherapist Carolyn Vandyken has been recognized for being a leader and innovator in her industry.
Vandyken has been awarded the Canadian Physiotherapy Association’s Centenary Medal of Distinction.
“Winning the Centennial Medal of Distinction is an unexpected honour because I have spent my career researching, treating, and advocating for pelvic health and persistent pain problems,” she said. “These marginalized health issues are coming to the forefront as important modifiable factors through physiotherapy, which means more people are going to get the help that they deserve.”
This award is in celebration of the association’s 100th anniversary and “recognizes leaders, role models, and innovators, honouring those who have made an impact on the physiotherapy profession between 1920 and 2020.” The letter Vandyken received noted that she has been “recognized as someone who has gone above and beyond in contributing to the profession”.
The awards were to be presented in Victoria this spring, but will instead be celebrated via Zoom due to COVID.
Vandyken’s career began in orthopaedics, but after struggling with her own pelvic health issues 20 years ago, she changed her focus. She has since educated thousands of physiotherapists across the country and is well known as a leader in the pelvic field.
In addition to her clinic, Physio Works Muskoka, which specializes in pelvic and persistent pain, Vandyken has also worked to educate other physiotherapists about pelvic health.
In 2010 Vandyken started a teaching company, Pelvic Health Solutions, which worked to increase awareness of pelvic health and promoted its inclusion in a physiotherapist’s approach to treating patients. At that time, there were only a handful of physiotherapists who treated the pelvic floor; there are now thousands who do.
She has since sold the company, but Vandyken still is a guest teacher, educating physios across the country.
Vandyken also wrote a book called Why Pelvic Pain Hurts.
“Pelvic health is improving but there is a long way to go. Physicians and other medical professionals are starting to look at this [pelvic health] piece as well,” she said. “The growing interest in pelvic health is so important for many reasons, especially as incontinence, which is curable in 90 per cent of cases, is one of the four geriatric giants in aging according to World Health Organization.”
Vandyken wants everyone struggling with these issues to start with physiotherapy before opting for surgery or medication because there is extensive research proving that it is the most effective solution.
“We need to normalize conversations about leakage, painful sex, constipation because these topics are still seen as taboo,” she said. “It isn’t normal to lose function of your bodily fluids yet one in three women and one in nine men leak urine, and one in four women have pain with intercourse.”
Incontinence is the number one reason for nursing home admittance and fifty per cent of people will reach end-of-life in diapers.
Vandyken and her daughter Brittany started a new teaching company over a year ago called Reframe Rehab, an international pelvic health education company.
“Our mission is to start to break down the barriers on how we practise physiotherapy by looking at the nervous system and retraining it,” she said. “Many physiotherapists still operate in a biomechanical way. They search for the problem in the tissues, but with persistent pain it is more of a biopsychosocial [biology, psychology and environmental] problem. This means that while the tissue itself is important, the psychosocial issues [like] stress, anxiety, diet, and depression, are just as important. We need to look at the bigger picture because one in four people in the world have persistent pain.”
Physio Works Muskoka, which Vandyken co-owns with her daughter, treats a number of pain-related issues including: general pelvic pain in both men and women, pain with intercourse, endometriosis, vulvadinia, bladder pain, incontinence, chronic prostitis (inflammation of the prostate), erectile disfunction, deep hip pain, pregnancy, post-partum, cancer rehab, and breast pain.
“This is a basic human right and we need to take care of our pelvic floors in order to be strong, healthy, and happy,” said Vandyken. “If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, one of our basic needs is physiological function. If those needs aren’t being met we can’t feel safe, loved, or a sense of belonging.”
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