Pelvic Pain Awareness Month: Part 2: Hope for Chronic Pelvic Pain

Mayis PelvicPainAwarenessmonth

Welcome back! In part 1 of this blog we discussed how pelvic pain can affect anyone, regardless of their age or gender. We also discussed that pelvic pain can feel many different ways and may occur in different body locations and be triggered by different activities. Now that we have the basics under our belt, we can march forward and start to explore different ways to manage and treat pelvic pain.

First steps

Now that you have a name for what you are experiencing, it is important to get a handle on the various characteristics of the pain you are experiencing. This information will provide valuable insights to the clinicians who are treating you. Some questions to think about include:

  • How long has this pain been going on?
    • Chronic pelvic pain is classified as pain that has gone on for 3 or more months, this type of pain likely has musculoskeletal involvement and will likely require the help of a pelvic floor physical therapist in addition to medical intervention
    • Also try and think if there were any significant events around the time of your symptoms onset; these events may be physical like spraining an ankle or emotional, like moving or starting a new job
  • What makes it worse and what makes it better?
    • Sometimes you won’t know and that’s ok too.
  • Where is the pain?
  • What does the pain feel like?
    • Describing the character of pain can be really tricky. Here are some words we hear a lot
      • Burning
      • Itching
      • Stabbing
      • Buzzingwork
      • Aching
      • Gnawing
      • Sharp, Shooting
      • Dull
      • Tingling/numbness

Now that you have this information, it’s time to make an appointment with a doctor, who ideally has experience in treating pelvic pain. Your doctor will work to determine if there are any immediate medical concerns that require treatment. It is important to be patient when starting this step. Usually it is not immediately clear on exactly what is causing your pain, especially if it has been going on for some time. Usually chronic pelvic pain is caused by more than one system (i.e it could be a bit digestive and also a bit musculoskeletal). That is why your first visit with a clinician is typically just a jumping off point.

Next Steps

After your initial appointment you may have a referral in hand to see a specialist. Specialities that treat pelvic pain include:

  • Colorectal
  • Gastroenterology
  • Gynecology
  • Physical therapy
  • Physiatry
  • Psychiatry
  • Psychology
  • Neurology
  • Urology
  • Urogynecology

It is important to visit a clinician who specializes in pelvic pain, considering it is a very specialized topic, and unless a clinician has an interest in it, their exposure to pelvic pain may be limited.

The next two pieces of advice I am about to give may seem mutually exclusive, but hear me out. Trust your gut, but also be patient with the process. For chronic pelvic pain, it takes some time to see improvement. Think about it, you’ve had this pain for a very long time, it will take a while to improve. In physical therapy, we expect our patients to see some improvement in 4-6 weeks, and similar timeframes can be expected for other types of interventions. That said, if you feel like the clinician you are seeing is dismissing you or not taking your complaints seriously, that is important. A colleague of mine, who I adore, tells her patients “who knows your body better than you?”. The answer is no one. If you think something is wrong, it is your right to be taken seriously.

First Steps in Treatment

There are steps you can take to start addressing your pain almost immediately. I discuss some of them in this blog. Getting a handle on your stress is really important when dealing with chronic pelvic pain ( I am currently writing this during a global pandemic, so I do recognize this is much easier said than done). This is important because chronic stress can cause the pelvic floor to tighten which can exacerbate pain issues. It is important also to recognize that despite anxiety and stress being strong contributors, pelvic pain is not in your head and your symptoms are real.

It also may be worth your while to experiment with gentle heat or cold. A warm bath or hot pack or cold pack can be helpful. Just make sure to put plenty of layers between you and the cold/ hot pack.

Professional Interventions

Address your muscles. Yes, we are a PT clinic and we will always say muscles are important, but the truth is, with chronic pelvic pain, muscles spasm/tightness is involved in most cases of pain. For those of us on lockdown, physical therapy is still accessible and considered essential. Beyond Basics offers both in person and telehealth appointments to guide you on your way.

A trained pelvic floor physical therapist can help to teach you exercises to do on your own to manage pain, release muscle tightness, and correct poor postures and overuse patterns that may have contributed to your pain in the first place.

Depending on your diagnosis you may see other medical specialities who will prescribe medicine, injections, or surgery in some cases, like endometriosis. You may also be referred to a nutritionist, acupuncturist, or mental health therapist as well. Like I mentioned earlier, typically pelvic pain can have many different contributing factors so it is really important to have a team and to make sure your team is communicating well together.

Although pelvic pain can be massively disruptive and upsetting, that fact is people can get better. Have hope, trust your gut, and reach out if you need us.

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy

212-354-2622

How to find a physician familiar with pelvic pain:

International Pelvic Pain Society, Interstitial Cystitis Association

Bonder J, Chi M, Rispoli L. Myofascial pelvic pain disorders. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am

. 2017 28(3), 501-15

Speer L, Mushkbar S, Erbele T. Chronic pain in women. Am Fam Physician. 2016 1;93(5):380-7

Van der Velde J, Laan E, Everaerd W. Vaginismus, a component of a general defensive reaction. An investigation of pelvic floor muscle activity during exposure to emotion- inducing film excerpts in women with and without vaginismus. Int Urogynecol J Pelvic Floor Dysfunct. 2001; 12 (5) 328-31

Hope with Pelvic Pain: A Patient’s Story

The writer of this blog and patient and wishes to remain anonymous.

flower
I am a 65-year-old married professional male who resides in NYC. About a year ago, I woke up with pelvic pain and I assumed it was a urinary infection. Immediately I went to my urologist, who gave me a urine test which showed a slightly elevated white blood cell count and was given antibiotics for two weeks. Despite this treatment, the pain continued and I went for another test, which was negative.  I was told I had an inflamed prostate and to avoid spices and caffeine. This pain was so severe and constant that it affected all my daily life activities. Even painkillers, which I took for a short duration, could not relieve the pain.
Having performed my own internet research, for the better or worse, I came across several blogs on how pain sufferers had these similar symptoms that remained unresolved for years. The majority of these blogs focused on the perineal nerve, which I thought could be my issue. Therefore, I then went to a neurologist who claimed this was not the problem and then had other nerve blocks without any relief. Neither the urologist, neurologist, or general practitioners could offer any explanation.
Then, going back to the internet I found the keyword “pelvic pain”, which unlocked this pain mystery with services offered by only a handful of providers. The explanation was that rather than having headaches or backaches from stress, I was tightening my pelvic floor muscles thus creating pain.
After reviewing the few physical therapy sites I decided to try Beyond Basics for a discussion, evaluation, and treatment. I was able to schedule an appointment right away without needing a prescription from a physician. At my first session, I explained that I lacked the hope that this problem would ever be resolved, but that I would be committed to their program.
Now after almost two months of weekly sessions, my Physical Therapist has led me on a road to holistic recovery guided by exercises, massage, education, and emotional support.  I understand that the scale of pain relief will be a roller coaster, but now for the first time, I can relax when there are dips in pain.
I want to conclude my first blog by saying that my Beyond Basics PT has given me “hope” by defining the problem and offering a solution with life lessons on how to deal with this issue that is unknown to so many people.
It has been a few weeks in which I have no pain, feel fully recovered and I am back to appreciating life.

Anonymous

 

If you have questions about orthopedic, pelvic, or sports physical therapy, BBPT is offering free phone consults to those living in the greater NYC area for a limited amount of time!

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy

212-354-2622 (42nd Street Location)

212-267-0240 (William Street Location)

 

 

Pelvic Pain Awareness Month Part 1: What is Pelvic Pain

Beyond Basics remains open and is offering both in person and telehealth appointments. Call 212-354-2622 for our midtown office and 212-267-0240 for our downtown office to learn more

Mayis PelvicPainAwarenessmonth

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

Treatment

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

Pelvic Health 101: Running to the Bathroom Again?

***In light of current events, and in an effort to keep our community as healthy as possible, we have moved our Pelvic Health 101 (PH 101) seminars from in person to online.  Although we regret not being able to meet everyone in person, we are excited for the opportunity to broadcast information about pelvic floor disorders and how to treat them fair and wide. Please keep an eye on our social media as well as the blog to find out how you can learn more about the pelvic floor.****

Warmly,

The Team at Beyond Basics

By Fiona McMahon, DPT

Do you find yourself with a full map of every public restroom along your daily commute in your head? Do you find yourself competing for the aisle seat at movies so you can sneak away to the bathroom? Does it hurt to go? Do you get up multiple times a night? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this week’s Pelvic Health 101 is for you.

On Thursday, March 26 join us at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, for all of the ins and outs of bladder health. Learn how the bladder works, common bladder disorders, and practical tips for helping your bladder symptoms. Light snacks and wine will be served.

Register at PelvicHealth101.eventbrite.com today.

ph101 sp 20

 

Pelvic Health 101 is back!

Pelvis Drawing

***In light of current events, and in an effort to keep our community as healthy as possible, we have moved our Pelvic Health 101 (PH 101) seminars from in person to online.  Although we regret not being able to meet everyone in person, we are excited for the opportunity to broadcast information about pelvic floor disorders and how to treat them fair and wide. Please keep an eye on our social media as well as the blog to find out how you can learn more about the pelvic floor.****

Warmly,

The Team at Beyond Basics

 

On March 19th, at 7pm we will be kicking off our spring semester of pelvic health education class, we call Pelvic Health 101 (PH101). In our first class we will be introducing you to the pelvic floor muscles, where they are, what they do, and how they relate to the health and function of your bowel, bladder, and sexual functioning. We will also be covering how things such as alignment, posture, muscle tone and nerves can affect your symptoms. This course is a great starting point to help you understand your pelvic floor and pelvic floor symptoms.

 

New York, NY 10017
Register at: pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

Here is our line up of this and future classes

ph101 sp 20

 

 

Can Treating Your Pelvic Floor Beat the Bloat!?

time lapse photography of splash of water
Photo by Zoe Jane on Pexels.com

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

Bloating is the worst. It hurts. It makes us feel uncomfortable in our clothes and can be super unpredictable. There is so much that can cause bloating and many times bloating can be caused by more than one thing: diet, gut flora balance (the ratio of good gut bacteria to bad), hormones, and your menstrual cycle/history, for those of us who menstruate. All these things can all play a part in bloating. Did you know the pelvic floor can contribute too? The truth is there are a lot of things that can contribute to bloating. In this blog we will give you a quick overview of where to start as well as explain how a tight pelvic floor can contribute to bloating.

Nothing fits and my belly really hurts! Help!

I’m so sorry! The first thing I would suggest at this point is get yourself an appointment with a trusted general practitioner. There really is a lot that can go into a rip roarin’ case of abdominal bloating, and having a good clinician to look through possible causes is worth their weight in gold. They are the first line to start sorting this stuff out. Go in prepared, if you notice any dietary contributors try and remember to tell your doc. Do you bloat at a specific time of day or after a specific activity? Does your bloating change based on your menstrual cycle, if you have one? Is there anything else amiss in your health, like fatigue, hair loss, overheating or feeling really cold? All of these details can be so helpful in the hands of the right clinician.

 

My Doctor did a bunch of tests, now what?

If your doctor found something on testing, hooray! You are closer than you were before, even if you have yet to see results. Samesies if your doctor didn’t find anything, because now you know the bloating isn’t caused by whatever they tested for. If you haven’t seen results OR didn’t receive a diagnosis at all, it’s time to look a bit deeper into your potential cause of bloating, the pelvic floor.

 

First of all, “The pelvic what?” and second of all, how can I tell if this is an avenue I want to go down?

Ah, the pelvic floor. If you are new to this blog, understand you are not alone if you have never heard of it. No one really talks about it, but it’s super important. The pelvic floor lives between the pubic bone in front and tail bone in back. No matter what anatomy you were born with, we all have one. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that stabilizes the pelvis, regulates urination and defecation, and provides sexual function.

When people have pelvic floor dysfunction, many times the muscles are very tight and cannot move well to let stool out or keep urine in amongst other symptoms. A tight pelvic floor can affect your belly bloating by not moving down well to accommodate digestive gas. When we digest our food, the naturally occurring bacteria in our guts put off gas. In a healthy person, the pelvic floor will have some give to accommodate the bloat and allow you to expand like a balloon, up, down, side-to-side, and front to back. If you have a tight pelvic floor, much of the pressure is pushed out through your belly and you get that familiar and rather uncomfortable belly bulge. This is worsened if you have a weak transverse abdominis, which is the lovely little muscle that wraps around your belly and lies underneath to your six pack muscles. You may also find that you get heartburn along with the bloat which can be related to the pressure from the gas pushing up on your upper GI tract.

Signs the Pelvic Floor Could be Your Bloating Puzzle Missing Piece

Because the pelvic floor does so so so much for the body, we often see pelvic floor issues manifesting in many different aspects of our lives. Here are some symptoms that are caused by pelvic floor dysfunction. If you have these symptoms as well as bloating, pelvic floor physical therapy is very likely to be the right place to go.

  • Painful penetration
  • Painful orgasm/ejaculation
  • Painful sexual arousal
  • Urinary pain/burning
  • Urinary frequency (going to the bathroom more than once every 2 hours)
  • Urinary hesitancy
  • Urinary leakage
  • Urinary urgency
  • Bowel frequency (going more 3+ times a day)
  • Bowel urgency
  • Constipation
  • Bowel incontinence
  • Pelvic pain
  • Low back pain

How will Pelvic PT Help Me?

Pelvic floor physical therapy can help teach tight muscles contributing to bloating how to relax, normalize bowel movements, and strengthen the transversus abdominis, amongst many, many, other things. Learn more about how it can help, here.

There is so much that can be done to keep you from warring with your waistband and it may just start with pelvic floor PT.

Abraham S, Luscombe G, Kellow J. Pelvic floor dysfunction predicts abdominal bloating and distention in eating disorder patients. Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology. 2012. 12(6)

What’s Neater Than Your Peter? Burning Urination

#3MalePelvicFloor_Nolabel_copyright
 copyright Amy Stein 2008

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

It’s been a while since we’ve done a “What’s Neater than Your Peter” series so it’s definitely time for another addition! Today we will cover urethral burning. For people with penises, this can be an alarming symptom. By itself it can be a pretty non- specific symptom. Thus, for anyone experiencing urethral burning, it is important to visit your healthcare provider right away, to find out what is causing your symptoms. In this blog we review potential causes of urethral burning, which is by no means an exhaustive list, and discuss what can be done for urethral burning caused by musculoskeletal conditions as well as some food items that can irritate the urethra.

If you are saying “ureth- what?” you are not alone. Both people with male and female anatomy have a urethra. The urethra, or the “pee hole” as it is colloquially known, the passageway from the bladder to the outside of the body. In people with male anatomy, the urethra also transports ejaculate out during ejaculation. Nifty. For people with penises, your urethra is longer than those of us with female anatomy, which is somewhat protective against urinary tract infections(UTIs), you lucky duck, you.

Pain and stinging in your urethra could indicate a lot of things. Things that you definitely don’t want to wait on treating include; sexually transmitted infection (i.e herpes, chlamydia, and gonorrhea), bladder infection, which untreated can progress to kidney infection, reaction to personal care products, prostatitis, and pelvic floor dysfunction, which can cause non- bacterial prostatitis), amongst other conditions.

The thought of potentially having an STI can keep people away from the doctor secondary to embarrassment, cost barriers, etc. According to an up to date article cited in the sources, more than half of the United States population who is eligible for screening fails to do so. Don’t let it be you. The complications of untreated STIs can be much worse than the initial infection, not to mention the risk of harming your future partners. Also know that STI’s are fairly common and having one does not make you a “dirty” or “bad” person. It’s so common! Nearly 1 in 2 people will acquire an STI in their lifetime, so if you do have one, you aren’t alone and you deserve to feel better.

So what happens if you’ve ruled out STI, bladder infection, prostate infection, and reactions to personal care products? What in the actual heck could be causing your urethral discomfort? At this point it is important to look at your pelvic floor and your diet.

Let’s talk about diet first. There are some substances that can irritate the bladder and urethra, and give the feeling of burning in the urethra as well as increased urinary frequency and urgency. I write about bladder irritants in my recent blog and you can check out a list of bladder irritants here. (INSERT BOTH BLOG AND bladder irritant list). But if you are too busy to read the whole blog, the long and short of it is, not every irritant on this list will bother your symptoms. Be mindful when eating foods with these irritants. If your symptoms flare 2-3 hours following eating an irritant, consider eliminating it from your diet and see how you do. The most common irritants we see at BBPT are caffeine, citrus, alcohol and spicy food.

Now let’s talk about urethral burning and its relationship to the pelvic floor, shall we? The pelvic floor is the area of muscles that live between the pubic bone in front and the tailbone in back. Like an onion, the pelvic floor has layers: three to be precise. The outermost layer contains a muscle called the bulbospongiosus (bulbo), along with its buddy the ischiocavernosus, and the superficial transverse perineum. The bulbo surrounds the urethra and is at the base of the penis. If it is tight, it can make it harder to pee and also cause urethral burning with urination and ejaculation. In addition, the layer below: the urogenital diaphragm and the layer below that, which consist of a whole bunch of muscles called the levator ani, can contribute to these symptoms as well. In fact, dysfunction in these muscles causes almost 95% of non bacterial prostatitis cases. Wowzah, no? I discuss prostatitis in much more detail in this blog (INSERT). How can you tell if your muscles are tight? The best way to tell is getting yourself to a skilled pelvic floor physical therapist, who can accurately diagnose issues with the pelvic floor as well as provide you with a plan to start feeling better.

Sources:

American Sexual Health Association. Statistics. http://www.ashasexualhealth.org/stdsstis/statistics/ [ Accessed January 14, 2020]

Ghanem K, Tuddenham S. Screening for sexually transmitted infections. Up to Date. October 11, 2019

Mayo Clinic. Painful urination (dysuria). https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/painful-urination/basics/causes/sym-20050772. [Accessed January 14, 2020]

Publications. Harvard Medical School. 2007. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/chronic-nonbacterial-prostatitis-chronic-pelvic-pain-syndrome. Accessed December 11, 2016