Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Sheri DeSchaaf, DPT.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Dr. DeSchaaf. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I am a San Diego native – raised in Point Loma, graduated from PLHS, and got my B.A. in Communications at UCLA. After college it took me a few years of soul searching to finally pursue my Doctorate in Physical Therapy, which I completed at Chapman University in 2011. I spent the first few years of my career at Gaspar Physical Therapy in North County San Diego, where I refined my skills in treating orthopedic, musculoskeletal and neurological conditions, and learned a tremendous amount about quality patient care and how to get patients better fast.
Within my first year of practice, I discovered a passion for Women’s Health physical therapy, or “Pelvic PT”. Pelvic PT is an almost completely unknown specialization of physical therapy that has been growing in the United States since the 1940’s. Pelvic PTs specialize in treating conditions that uniquely impact women – common conditions like urinary incontinence, urgency, pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic pain, pain with intercourse, as well as pain and weakness during pregnancy and in the postpartum period. Pelvic PTs are the most qualified professionals to guide women in postpartum recovery and return to fitness because we are not only exercise experts, but have extensive training on the physical and physiological changes during and after pregnancy, and how those changes impact the body as a whole.
As I learned more about the life changing benefits pelvic physical therapy has for women, I became more committed to bringing these skills to women in my community. I know so many mothers who suffer with bladder issues, painful intercourse, back pain, pelvic pain, abdominal separation, weakness, and a host of other problems. Everyone just seems to say “that’s mom life!” and there is nothing you can do about it. This is SO WRONG!! Pelvic PT can address all of those conditions and more, if women were just aware that we exist and are here to help!
As I began to practice pelvic therapy, I realized that women’s issues require a higher level of attention, time, and personal interaction than is possible in a typical physical therapy clinic. I wanted to spend more time with my clients – hear their WHOLE story, and not have to hand them off to an aide or rush off to another client after 20 minutes. And so SHEFit was born!
I started SHEFit PT in Pacific Beach in 2013, working after and before hours at my group practice to see clients. Right as I was ready getting ready to leave my old practice, my husband and I got the wonderful news that I was pregnant, and about to join the world of motherhood about which I am so passionate! I was determined to follow all my own advice during and after my pregnancy, and was able to continue working and exercising – running and strength training – right up until the week I delivered my beautiful daughter. I followed my own postpartum rehabilitation and exercise program and was able to experience firsthand how intentional rehabilitation can effectively bring a woman back to physical strength and fitness as safely and rapidly as possible.
Since my baby was born, I am even more passionate about helping EVERY mother understand that there is a healthy way to recover from birth, and a safe way to return to exercise. There is a lot of pressure out there for moms to get skinny fast, but that is not the safest or best path for everyone. No matter how difficult or easy your pregnancy was, no matter how your birth went or what state your body is in when you finally get home with your baby, careful rehabilitation can get you back to the activities you love, and caring for your family. Some moms have it easy, and for others everything goes wrong. But in the midst of things we cannot control, there are so many things we CAN control that help our bodies heal and restore their strength, mobility, and energy.
My greatest joy at SHEFit is helping mamas understand their bodies and regain strength and vitality, no matter what their birth history might be! That is our mission: empowering women to achieve wellbeing through healing exercise and compassionate care.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I don’t think starting a small business is ever a smooth road, but I can’t really complain about mine! I mentioned that right as I was gaining momentum at SHEFit and getting ready to leave my group practice, I found out I was pregnant! That was terrifying at first. We weren’t sure how maternity benefits would work, or how my business would do in that first year, or what would happen after the baby came when I wasn’t able to work. But God had a plan that was better than what we could have put together! It was wonderful to be able to connect with my patients on a new level – to experience pregnancy as I was treating pregnant women. I was prepared for all kinds of scenarios after hearing the birth stories of so many of my patients – the good the bad and the ugly! It was a blessing to have my schedule slow down while I was dealing with the nausea and fatigue which lasted far beyond my first trimester (my whole pregnancy in fact!). I was glad to be able to control my workload as my belly got enormous and I couldn’t climb up on a table to stretch someone’s hamstrings anymore! As one would expect, my business lost a lot of momentum while I was on maternity leave, so when the 12 weeks ended I took a temporary position with Kaiser’s pelvic PT department. This was a phenomenal opportunity to work with and learn from some of the most experienced pelvic PTs in San Diego and see a broad variety of clients. Kaiser’s pelvic therapists don’t serve many postpartum patients. Rather, the majority of patients are referred by urogynecology for urinary or fecal incontinence, bowel dysfunction, constipation, and chronic pelvic pain. I was able to get a lot of experience with peri- and post-menopausal women, and was able to see firsthand the consequences of NOT rehabilitating the core and pelvic floor after pregnancy. Women who had their babies 30 or 40 years ago, and are now suffering from severe pelvic organ prolapse or chronic pelvic pain syndromes like vaginismus and vulvodynia. I grew tremendously as a therapist, and became even more passionate about increasing the awareness in the community and with local women and healthcare providers that pelvic PT should be standard after pregnancy, no matter what! Women deserve to know what might happen years down the road, and ways they can try to prevent these conditions.
I left Kaiser last August, and my business has grown steadily since then. I haven’t hit any major roadblocks yet, though I am sure they will come! I am just enjoying every minute of doing something I love, serving people who need it.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the SHEFit Physical Therapy story. Tell us more about the business.
SHEFit is a physical therapy and wellness clinic specializing in women’s health and pelvic rehabilitation, especially recovery from pregnancy and safe return to exercise and sports after childbirth.
It is important to note that not all PTs are well qualified to treat pregnancy, postpartum, or pelvic health conditions. General and orthopedic PTs have only very basic knowledge of pregnancy related changes or conditions, and their training does not equip them to address pelvic floor dysfunction in any specific way. Pelvic PTs go through extensive post graduate training, learning the intimate details of internal pelvic anatomy including the pelvic and abdominal organs, sexual and digestive function, reproductive function, pregnancy related changes and postpartum healing processes, and other anatomical and biomechanical considerations that are crucial in dealing with pelvic conditions. As a pelvic PT I am skilled at internal vaginal assessment and treatment of pelvic muscle function. Pelvic PTs are really the only healthcare providers qualified to treat pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) directly without drugs or surgery.
What is pelvic floor dysfunction, you ask? It is actually a lot more common than you may think, with over 50% of women experiencing some type of PFD by age 65, and the risk goes up with childbearing. Types of PFD include urinary and bowel incontinence, pelvic organ prolapses, painful intercourse, and diastasis recti abdominis (the abdominal separation that happens after pregnancy and is a very hot topic right now on mommy blogs). Other conditions that respond well to pelvic PT include overactive bladder, vaginismus, vulvodynia, and painful conditions like endometriosis and interstitial cystitis. If you have bladder leakage, urinary frequency or urgency, painful urination, pelvic pain, pain with intercourse, incurable pain in the groin, hips or low back, tailbone pain, pain with sitting, or the postpartum belly-bulge, and you have tried everything but nothing quite gets rid of it, there is a good chance you have pelvic floor dysfunction!
Pelvic PTs treat all these conditions, but at SHEFit PT I am most passionate about the postpartum woman, empowering her to recover well and fully, and to return safely to whatever activities she enjoys without injury or pain. There is so much pressure on women now to get back in shape fast, to lose all the baby weight immediately and have a 6-pack by 2 months postpartum. This is completely unrealistic for most women, and it places tremendous stress on mothers during a time when they really should be resting, healing and focusing on nurturing their growing family. Not only is it unrealistic, but it is harmful. I see women every day who tried to go back to rigorous exercise too quickly, without rehabilitating their abdominal, spinal, or pelvic floor muscles appropriately, and they not only end up with pain, but they often end up with a worse abdominal separation than they likely had at delivery. There are too many fitness gurus out their selling vulnerable new mothers a quick-fix to get skinny. My goal is to educate women on the risks AND benefits of exercise, because yes, every woman should be able to exercise and get strong and fit after babies! But I want to help them do it safely, effectively, and efficiently, without developing pain or pelvic dysfunction.
That is what I do at SHEfit. I use all my physical therapy tools – exercise, strength training, stretching, joint mobilization, massage, body mechanics training, postural and breath training, and nutritional education to help women achieve their fitness goals – whatever their goals might be. Sometimes that means 4 visits over 4 months, and sometimes it means intensive therapy or personal training 1-2/week for 6 months. Every one of my patients is involved in her plan of care – every plan is individualized and tailored based on the woman, her situation, and her goals.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I consider myself successful when my patients get better.
This can be tough, because while most patients do get better, there are conditions that do not respond well to treatment, and variables that may limit the individual’s ability to heal with conservative care. I also can’t control what my clients do when they are away from me – no matter how much a teach them, what exercise or massage or stretching we do, if they don’t do their home exercise program or follow the recommendations I give them on how to reduce their inflammation and improved their body mechanics, our success will be limited.
Nevertheless, I count success by happy clients. If they gained the wisdom they came for, if they feel better and move better and they have achieved their goals, that is success in my professional world.
On a personal note, if I give 100% to my clients during the day, and 100% to my family when I am home, that is also key to success. As much as I love helping other mothers, I want to be an excellent wife and mother to my own family. I am still learning how to draw those boundaries, but so far so good! One bonus of working with other moms is that they understand sleepless nights and the importance of going home on time!
I also strive to practice what I preach. A truly successful day is when I have made a difference for each client, loved and served my family, and still taken time to get in a run on the bay or sweat session at the gym!
- Cash rates are $150 for evaluation and $125 per session (usually one hour). All sessions are one-on-one with me, no aides or assistants!
- Address: 4747 Mission Blvd., Ste 4, San Diego, CA 92109
- Website: www.SHEFitPT.com
- Phone: (858) 247-2660
- Email: email@example.com