by Dr. Crystal Frazee, PT, C-HWC, CIAYT
Sixty percent of women deal with pelvic pain at some point in their lives, and the reasons are multifaceted: The female pelvic floor can be affected by hormones, medications, childbirth, disease, infections, trauma, pelvic surgeries and musculoskeletal injuries such as falls. Regardless of the reason that the pain develops, research shows that the pelvic floor muscles are almost always a cause or contributing factor. There are effective options for addressing pelvic pain and restoring sexual, physical and emotional health as a result. You deserve to feel radiant, healthy, and whole! Follow these tips and you’ll be well on your way.
Recognize the Symptoms
The most common pelvic complaints are related to bladder/bowel function, pain with intercourse or discomfort with basic daily activities like sitting and bending over. The pain is typically felt in the lower back, hips, groin, tailbone, sacroiliac joints or inside the vagina or anus. Sometimes pelvic issues can even contribute to constipation, abdominal discomfort and difficulty exercising.
These issues are common, but never normal. Bring awareness to any discomfort you’ve been having and decide if you may be dealing with a pelvic-health related issue.
Get Physical Therapy First
A physical therapist is a great go-to expert to assess for musculoskeletal imbalances that may be causing your pain. Think of your physical therapist as your body’s BFF. They dial into how your posture, breathing pattern, muscle strength, mobility, coordination and lifestyle all relate to the issue your body is having. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment; a good PT will compassionately design a customized plan to deliver efficient results based on your personal goals.
Take a Mind-Body Approach
Healing pelvic pain is just as much about the emotions that arise as it is about the physical tissues involved. It’s not uncommon to have anxiety and fear about getting pregnant or staying intimate with your partner when you’re living with persistent pain.
Your mind, body and emotions are inextricably linked: for example, emotions can trigger body tension, so a mind-body approach that helps you bring awareness to these emotions can ease the pelvic muscle tension and relieve pain.
When you are receiving treatment or doing stretches, be very conscious of emotional and physical sensations. Keep your breathing slow, “low” (diaphragmatic breathing) and steady. When a sensation arises, be curious about it and allow it to be.
When you give space to your entire physical and emotional experience, you optimize your healing and relief.
Another way to practice mind-body healing is to manage your thoughts. Anxious thinking can keep your nervous system revved up and elevate pain levels. Recognize your worrisome thoughts and give them a label. “Fear” or “anxiety” are simple labels you can use that redirect your focus to the present moment, diffusing the mental loop that contributes to ongoing pain.
A skilled PT will encourage you to do mind-body practices and create a safe environment for you to notice and share what you are experiencing as you undergo treatments.
Build a Team
If you aren’t seeing relief within a few months of physical therapy, it’s time to expand the team by including your gynecologist and other specialists to rule out other possibilities. Some conditions, like endometriosis, have the best outcome with a comprehensive team that may even include a counselor to help you navigate the emotional challenges.
Living with pelvic pain can feel frustrating and isolating at times, but it’s important to know you are not alone! Partner with a women’s health PT, integrate mind-body healing practices and expand the team if you need to. You can absolutely ease your pain and feel confident about your body again!