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Fiona McMahon PT, DPT
I don’t need to write it out. You’ve already heard it. But I will write it anyway. These are uncertain times. This May, much like March and April, is shaping up to be a May that is very different than ones we’ve ever experienced before. That said, life still marches on. May is Pelvic Pain Awareness month and it seems appropriate to take some time to recognize those who are dealing with pelvic pain as well as spread awareness to what it is and how we can make it better… even in these uncertain times.
What is Pelvic Pain?
Pelvic pain can sound really simple, it’s pain in your pelvis, but let’s explore what that really means. The pelvis is a bowl shaped set of bones, the innominate (literally meaning no name), the sacrum, and the ischium, that connect your abdomen to your legs. Within this bowl lives your reproductive organs, your bladder, and rectum. Surrounding these bones and organs you have this nifty stuff called fascia. Fascia is the organ of shape and helps to both give structures within our body form as well as help them to slide and glide past each other. Like I said, nifty. Also within the pelvis we have muscles, nerves, and blood vessels! It gets really busy down there!
Because there is so much going on in the pelvis, pelvic pain can feel a lot of different ways depending on what structures are involved and even individual differences in how the body feels pain. Pelvic pain can have the feel of a dull ache, which you can feel in your pelvic bones, genitals, and or abdomen. It could also feel sharp and “stabby”, hot and burning, itching,and/or like a bunch of pressure. It can come and go or be a constant sensation. It can be what we call provoked, meaning certain triggers elicit it, or it could come and go seemingly without any obvious cause.
Pelvic pain can come in a lot of different varieties and it can affect everyone, regardless of gender or age. Many people who hear that I am a pelvic floor physical therapist, assume that I only treat postpartum women. The truth is postpartum women are not the only ones who can experience pelvic pain.
People with male anatomy can experience pelvic pain. They may feel burning with urination or climax, pain in the tip of the penis, in the testicles, or in their rectum. Sometimes this pain limits the ability of its sufferer to sit, wear tight clothing, or have pain free sexual experiences Often these symptoms get confused as a bladder, prostate or yeast infection. Although infections can certainly cause these symptoms, many times tight and spasmed muscles within the pelvis can be the culprit. We will discuss this further in part two of this blog.
People with female genitalia can experience many of the same symptoms listed above with obvious anatomical differences. Instead of the tip of the penis, a person with female anatomy may feel pain in their clitoris, or labia. They also may have pain with sexual penetration or arousal. Patients may also experience burning urination similar to the sensation of having a bladder infection. For people who menstruate, the cramps may be so debilitating that they are unable to work or go to school through the pain. All of these different presentations fall into the category of pelvic pain.
Children can also experience pelvic pain.
Oftentimes this is caused because of prolonged constipation, but it can also be caused by muscle tightness, and gynecological conditions like endometriosis or lichens planus/ sclerosis.
People with pelvic pain, regardless of age or gender may also experience pain with voiding, either urine or feces, abdominal bloating, and or difficulty sitting.
What Causes Pelvic Pain?
So now that you know what pelvic pain is, what causes it? Many, many, many different things can cause pelvic pain. As we spoke about earlier in the blog, infections can cause pelvic pain. That is why it is important to get yourself in to see a doctor if you are experiencing this type of pain. She will be able to rule out or rule in infections or other medical causes for your pain. Often the problem causing your pain may be musculoskeletal. People with this cause of pelvic pain may not feel relief with traditional medical intervention. The muscles of your pelvis include the muscles of your abdominal wall, your bottom, and the muscles that live between your pubic bone in front and your tail bone in the back, also known as your pelvic floor. These muscles may be in spasm causing the types of pain I described earlier, (yes even the burning urination pain). It may also be that a muscle group in the pelvis itself or supporting the pelvis may be too weak to do its job properly. When this is the case, it is important to get yourself in to see a pelvic floor physical therapist, who can figure out exactly why your muscles are causing your pain.
Although pelvic pain can seem really bleak, there is a lot that can be done to treat it. It’s all about finding the right qualified professional to treat it. At Beyond Basics Physical Therapy we are the experts in pelvic pain and we treat patients from all over the world. We not only treat musculoskeletal causes of pelvic pain, but also work to connect our patients with other professionals who can help to holistically treat pelvic pain. If you have pelvic pain, please remember that there is hope for you.
Alright readers, that’s the basics on what pelvic pain is and what it looks like in different people. Next week we will go Beyond the Basics (see what I did there?) and discuss how to treat pelvic pain, especially pelvic pain caused by muscle dysfunction, in the clinic and even at home.
For more reading on pelvic floor dysfunction please check out these blogs as well as Amy’s books books on pelvic pain
How to Deal with Pelvic Floor Pain From Home
What is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy
What is Myofascial Release and Why do We Always Talk About it So Much?!
For People with Female Anatomy
Endo Awareness Month: How Endo can Affect your Tummy
Endo Awareness Month: Understanding Endo
Endo Awareness Month ( Part 2 of 4) : How Endo can Affect your Bladder
When it Feels Impossible to Have Sex For people with male anatomy All About Testicles
What’s Neater Than Your Peter? Burning Urination
Prostatitis What it is and What to do About it Bladder Health
Pelvic Floor MythBusters! Don’t eat lemon to avoid bladder pain, true or false?
How to Improve Bladder Health Books By Dr. Amy Stein PT DPT
Heal Pelvic Pain : available here
Beating Endo: available here
The International Pelvic Pain Society (IPPS) is a multidisciplinary group working to promote awareness and education of pelvic pain, if you care to donate, click here