Though the media is finally giving chronic pelvic pain some of the attention that it deserves, many people – particularly those living in remote areas or outside of the western world – are still not receiving proper diagnosis or treatment.
Many suffer in silence for years at a time as they struggle to do everyday tasks like sitting, biking, and having sex.
Doctors who aren’t quite up to speed with these issues might even be telling these people that there’s nothing wrong with them! When I first went to a GYN complaining about unbearable pain during intercourse, she basically told me it was STDs, lack of lubrication, or the ever-feared, “it’s all in your head” and, “You’re just afraid of sex.” Turns out she was dead wrong! About a year later I was properly diagnosed and started my journey to optimal pelvic health. In fact, I’m still working towards my pelvic health every day of my life.
If you think you have chronic pelvic pain and are sick and tired of being sick and tired, then it’s about time that you found help! Here is how you can embark on your treatment journey.
So what exactly is chronic pelvic pain and what causes it?
This is a monster of a question. The answer may seem simple: reoccurring pain in the pelvis. But it’s much more complex than that. “Chronic pelvic pain” can be broken down into many different types of diseases, disorders, and general issues – some of which are even interconnected with one another.
For example, a woman with endometriosis and a woman with pelvic inflammatory disease may experience similar symptoms, but the treatments for these conditions are quite different. The same goes for other pelvic pain problems, like pudendal neuralgia, vulvodynia, and pelvic floor dysfunction. These are only some of the many chronic diseases linked to the pelvis.
But we’ll stop throwing around medical terms, here. Let’s bite into the meat of this thing! You’re probably interested in this post because you’re experiencing some pain or issues in the pelvic region. So exactly what kind of problems point to a pelvic pain disorder?
Here are just some of the many symptoms that those with chronic pelvic pain may experience (on a scale from “That’s not so pleasant” to “Holy #@$! @^& that hurts!“):
- Painful bowel movements
- Painful urination
- Constant need to urinate
- Bloody urine
- Chronic constipation
- Sensation of constant pressure in the anus
- Painful intercourse
- Mysterious burning sensation in the vulva or vagina
- Pain when sitting
- Muscle tension in the legs
- Continuous bloating
- Abnormally heavy periods
As you may have noticed, these symptoms often contradict each other and easily overlap with many other diseases. This is where the problem comes in…
Why does chronic pelvic pain often go untreated?
There are many reasons why chronic pelvic pain slips through the cracks in the medical world. Some of these reasons are purely medical while others are a result of cultural pressures. I’m going to explore these reasons so you can get a better idea of why your doctor might be unable to diagnose you or why people often ignore their symptoms.
The pelvis is a relatively small space that’s jam-packed with various organs, muscles, and tissues that somehow manage to pull off reproduction, digestion, and many other functions. Hell, our pelvic floor muscle holds in all of our organs!
That’s no easy task! When you really sit down and examine the architecture of the pelvis, it reveals itself as a truly an admirable structure – a testimony to the intricacies of the body.
Of course, the pelvis’ awe-inspiring complexity makes it difficult to treat when something goes awry. After all, how are you supposed to figure out where the pain is coming from among tons of organs, muscles, and other tissues? For example, pain from period cramps can feel pretty similar to indigestion. For many people, pain in the pelvic region feels pretty much the same, with some variation in intensity.
Now imagine going to a doctor and listing off a few generalized symptoms. Well, pain during sex and chronic constipation could be anything, really! Doctors have to weed through a sea of possible issues and narrow down their lengthy list of possibilities before reaching a final few candidates. Even after this point – which may take months or even years to reach – getting to the root of things can be challenging, particularly if your doctor does not specialize in pelvic health or pelvic pain.
Aside from the limitations of modern medical science and the complexity of the pelvis, there are a few cultural reasons why pelvic pain is difficult to diagnose and treat.
Unfortunately, many of the symptoms associated with pelvic pain are considered embarrassing or taboo.
Very few people love the idea of sitting in a cold room that smells like cleaning chemicals and telling a perfect stranger that penetration feels like someone lit their vulva on fire, or that they struggle to poop more than once a week on the regular. After all, nothing says, “soiled dignity” quite like divulging the ins and outs of your intestinal tract (pun totally intended).
On top of all of this, many pelvic pain treatments are still highly experimental. Most pelvic pain diseases and issues don’t have an “insta-cure.” This means people usually have to try several treatments before seeing significant results. Often these treatments involve a great deal of lifestyle changes, depending on the issue. It’s rarely as easy as popping a pill. Unfortunately, no one ever said being healthy was easy!
Ultimately, what I’m trying to say is that pelvic pain is extremely complex.
It won’t always be diagnosed immediately or treated in the “proper way.” If you’re experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, it’s quite possible that you have chronic pelvic pain of some kind. Then again, it could also be something else. Helpful, I know! The point is that you won’t even begin to know how to treat the problem until you get at least some idea of what you’re dealing with.
Really though, how do I know if I have chronic pelvic pain?
Okay, so you get the idea that identifying pelvic pain can be a challenge, but how are you supposed to know if you have a problem? Sure you can look through every symptom list available on the World Wide Web and worry yourself to an early grave, but when will you truly know what your problem is?
To be perfectly honest, you’ll never really know if you have chronic pelvic pain until you seek out a specialist. If you’re experiencing pain and know from the core of your being that something is wrong, you might still be turned away from doctors left and right.
It can be really frustrating to be turned away and even insulting.
But you always have to remember that many of these doctors do not know anything about pelvic pain, particularly if you have a lesser-known issue like vulvodynia, pudendal neuralgia, or pelvic floor dysfunction.
Unfortunately, doctors can’t know every disease under the sun. They’re only human after all! If you think you have a chronic pelvic pain problem, then head over to the specialists. They’re the ones who can help you.
What makes specialists so…well, special? Pelvic pain specialists have been trained to identify various chronic pelvic pain issues. If you want someone to acknowledge your pain and let you know what’s up, they’re the ones you want to call.
Though you may not always get crystal-clear answers, they will likely provide you with more info than a general doctor or regular GYN. Luckily, these specialists and pelvic rehab centers are beginning to pop up all over the place, meaning that help and answers are easier to obtain than ever before!
Once you have a diagnosis – or at least a direction to work in – you can begin treating your problem and be on the road to optimal health!
I think I might have chronic pelvic pain, and I’ve made an appointment with a specialist. Now what?
Finding your nearest pelvic pain specialist and getting an appointment can honestly be one of the most difficult parts of the process. So congrats, you did the thing! So what can you do to help ease the pain between now and your appointment?
First, you want to make sure that you eat healthy foods and exercise. Yes, old and tired advice, but that’s because it’s true!
If you’re experiencing mysterious burning or rawness in the vulva area, it’s quite possible that you could have vulvodynia.
Vulvodynia sufferers often try to cut particularly acidic or histamine-filled foods out of their diet, as this has been found helpful for reducing flairs.
Even if this doesn’t sound like your issue, eating properly will make your body feel better on the whole – including your pelvis! Gentler exercises like yoga, walking, and even running on an elliptical can be incredibly helpful for some forms of pain. The general rule of thumb, when it comes to exercise and chronic pelvic pain is, do what you can do.
If it aggravates the pain, don’t do it!
Most can find some form of exercise that works for them without “awakening the beast” so to speak. Generally, those with chronic pelvic pain should avoid activities that put pressures on the pelvic area, such as biking and horseback riding.
Secondly, try to reduce everyday stresses as much as possible. This can really do wonders for chronic pelvic pain! Now, keep in mind, I’m definitely NOT saying that this is “all in your head,” but many chronic pelvic pain problems are partially caused or exacerbated by stress and worry.
If you’re a Type A personality, nail chewer, or worrywort, you’re a classic personality type for chronic pelvic pain.
Some remedies? Consider listening to relaxation music or meditating every day. Sometimes just making more time to pamper yourself or do something you love can really help! In fact, many pelvic pain specialists even incorporate these “holistic” elements into their treatment plans.
Lastly and most importantly, when it does come time for your appointment, leave your inhibitions at the door of that doctor’s office.
If the pain is sexual in nature or deals with unflattering bodily functions, don’t sweat it! If they’re judgmental about your sex life, pooping life, etc. (which they won’t be), then they’re in the wrong line of work!
Also, if the doc comes off a little cold, try your best to ignore it. After all, those with a great bedside manner are not always the best doctors. I’d personally rather deal with someone rude than incompetent when it comes to pelvic pain. Just let them do their job and listen to what they have to say.
Now does that mean you have to blindly accept all of their advice? Absolutely not! Always learn how to balance your gut instincts with the evidence that’s right in front of you. This principle applies to all of life but particularly to pelvic pain!
Jacquelyn White is a freelance writer at JW Writes and the creator of Sexual Healing, a blog about overcoming pelvic pain, dyspareunia, and low self-image. When she’s not writing for clients or talking about vaginas, she can be found hanging out with friends or relaxing with a good book.