Baylor OTD Alumna Improves Pelvic Health Through Occupational Therapy

May 28, 2024
An occupational therapist holds a pelvic floor model.

Pelvic floor therapy is a relatively new topic within the occupational therapy profession, and as a result, the two are not often heard in the same sentence. Lindsey Sutton, OTR, OTD ‘23, PhD, C-IAYT, 500 RYT, would love to change this narrative. 

Sutton’s initial profession was academia. As an adjunct associate professor at Western New Mexico University, she had the privilege of teaching social geography at the master’s level.  

Eventually, her family moved to Hawaii. There, she specialized as a yoga therapist, often working alongside patients diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Sutton, who considers herself “very much a social scientist,” had always enjoyed local outreach and volunteering, so she opted to serve on the Board of Directors for the Hawaii Parkinson Association. During this volunteer opportunity, she met someone who ultimately changed the direction in her professional life. 

“A fellow board member was a nurse, and her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson's. After the diagnosis, he was seeing both a physical therapist and an occupational therapist,” Sutton recalled. “She said, ‘Lindsey, everything you do with exercise and yoga is very much occupational therapy—have you ever thought about going that route?’”

Sutton’s family had moved states a few times, and as a result, she had not been able to build up the tenured academic career she had originally worked toward. After extensive research about the occupational therapy profession, she began to seriously consider her colleague’s suggestion. Baylor University’s Entry-level Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) program caught her attention. 

Lindsey Sutton holds a pelvic floor model.

During her studies through Baylor’s hybrid program, she appreciated the program’s emphasis on background basics for activity analysis, clinical skills, and diagnostic reasoning. The required Capstone semester allowed Sutton to dream big, and she opted to specialize in pelvic floor therapy. Occurring at the end of a Baylor OTD student’s academic journey, the Doctoral Capstone includes both a Capstone project and a Capstone experience. It is an opportunity for students to dive deeper into a more focused practice area. 

“For me, specifically, the Capstone experience provided the ability to specialize. It really was the significant key,” Sutton said. “It allowed me to launch right into pelvic floor health—rather than graduating, being more of a generalist practitioner, and then having to specialize later.”

After graduating from Baylor’s program and becoming a licensed occupational therapist, Sutton joined Uplift Physical Therapy in San Antonio, Texas. She is especially excited because Uplift effortlessly blends a holistic program including both physical and occupational therapies. There, she specializes as a pelvic health specialist.

“I found pelvic health has that aspect where there's a lot of overlap between the two professions [physical and occupational therapy], and it's an area where you can see so many diverse patients,” Sutton stated. “Pelvic floor therapy very much involves the musculoskeletal orthopedic aspect—and on the other hand, it also very much involves lifestyle, or we what call performance patterns, habits, routines, and roles. There's a mental health or nervous system aspect to it, as well.”

While most doctors still tend to refer women to a physical therapist for pelvic floor dysfunctions, Sutton believes women can greatly benefit from an occupational therapy viewpoint. Many aspects of pelvic floor health, such as sexual relationships, the ability to urinate, or the ability to withstand a gynecologist visit, are considered “occupations” that affect a woman’s overall quality of life and lifestyle. 

“At Uplift, I work mostly with the postpartum and postmenopausal populations. Or, I might help to prepare someone for a gynecological visit by helping them to relearn some breathing patterns and strength to overcome past experiences,” Sutton explained. “It could be anything that falls within our scope of practice.” 

While earning her OTD degree at Baylor, Sutton noticed there were significantly less pelvic health training opportunities geared toward occupational therapists. Training was often geared toward physical therapists. In response, she would love to see training and fellowships available in her profession—and she is yearning to make it a reality. 

“I would love to see that number grow,” Sutton said. “I would really love to have a post-professional fellowship program available for occupational therapists—for them to learn the intricacies of pelvic floor therapy. The fellowship opportunity is there for physical therapists, and so, this would be something I would love to start somewhere, somehow.”