2. Interstitial Cystitis (IC)
Unlike the kind of cystitis that can be treated with antibiotics, IC is a chronic inflammatory condition of the bladder wall. Some of the symptoms are an urge to urinate frequently, stinging the area surrounding the urethra, increased nighttime voiding (urinating), and a variety of pelvic and sexual pain symptoms.
3. Irritable Bowel (IBS)
Constipation and/or diarrhea are symptoms of this syndrome. Some women find that IBS flare ups correlate to an increase in vaginal irritation. Therefore foods that aggravate the bowel may also cause vaginal symptoms.
4. Lichen Sclerosis
This is an inflammatory chronic skin condition most common in the external genital area. Symptoms may range from none (for years) to mild or severe itching and irritation. Lichen Sclerosis does appear to be relatively prevalent in women with vulvodynia and sexual pain disorders. It can cause splitting and "paper cut" type tears in the region around the vaginal opening.
5. Myofascial Pain Syndrome
Myofascia are the muscles and connective tissue in the body. When in spasm, knots and "trigger points" develop that need to be released to eliminate pain and restore function. These trigger points in the pelvic myofascia can cause sexual pain.
6. Pelvic Endometriosis
Endometriosis occurs when endometrial cells, normally found only in the uterus, become imbedded in locations outside the uterus. These locations are usually within the pelvic cavity on reproductive organs, supportive ligaments, or structural systems like the bladder or bowel.
This misplaced tissue forms growths that look like dark spots. These growths respond to the menstrual cycle and break down and bleed each month, the same way the lining of the uterus does. This causes cyclical pain and inflammation - called dysmenorrhea. Additionally, the body’s immune response to this internal bleeding and breakdown of blood and tissues begins to cause scar tissue and adhesions (affected pelvic organs or structures adhering to one another) which can also cause ongoing pain.
Endometriosis affects millions of women but is often over diagnosed as the primary cause of pelvic and sexual pain. If the pain or deep sexual discomfort is intermittent and all month long, even though it may become worse leading up to the menstrual period, endometriosis may not be the primary reason for the pain. If you have been diagnosed and treated for endometriosis and you don't begin to get signifiant improvement either after medication or surgical treatment, insist on further evaluation for bladder, bowel, musculoskeletal, or nerve related causes of your pain.
7. Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
The pelvic floor encompasses all the muscles that surround and support the pelvic organs (uterus, bladder, and lower bowel). To function appropriately, these muscles must be toned. However, elevated tone in the pelvic floor muscles, making them too tight, tense, and "turned on" can result in painful sex and difficulty with bladder and bowel function. On the other hand, too little tone can lead to bladder and bowel incontinence (leakage) or prolapse (falling down, out of normal position). Pelvic floor dysfunction can refer to either too much or too little tone.
8. Previous life-long Pelvic Trauma
Events such as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, surgeries, accidental injuries, and cumulative aggravating structural factors can play a role in sexual pain. Additional possibilities include years of various sports activities such as gymnastics, cheerleading, track & field, soccer, ballet dancing, horseback riding, skating, etc. More and more women have engaged heavily and competitively in these sports over the past few decades, making them extremely vulnerable to these types of bodily stresses. The nervous system bio-chemically "imprints" and "remembers" these accumulated traumas, and any or all of these may predispose a young woman to sexual and pelvic pain disorders even years later.
9. Generalized Vulvodynia
Generalized vulvodynia is a subset of vulvodynia, it is less common than vulvar vestibulodynia (see below) and often very difficult to successfully treat. It is a deeper, more generalized pain. Pain can occur spontaneously (unprovoked) or in response to touch or pressure (provoked, such as by intercourse). Pain emanating from the pudendal nerve and its distribution may be a significant contributor to this condition in some cases (pudendal neuralgia).
10. Vulvar Vestibulodynia (Vestibulitis)
This condition causes pain and inflammation at the vaginal opening. Women describe the pain as burning, itching, raw, sandpaper, ground glass, and stinging. It is commonly mistaken for vaginal yeast infections and is often treated incorrectly. Vestibulitis is the most common reason for entrance pain (painful sex) in reproductive-aged women.
Specialized Women's Health Physical Therapy: What ELSE to Expect on your First Visit
Follow up video blog answering some questions from our first video post about what to expect at your very first pelvic floor physical therapy session. Individual experiences will vary. But listening to internationally recognized women's health physical therapist Karen Liberi, MS, MPT, WCS may help relieve some fears and anxiety, especially surrounding the pelvic floor muscle evaluation.
EXERCISE ROUTINE TIPS FOR THOSE WITH PELVIC PAIN
"Toning up" may actually be a "sexual downer" on body parts that need to be the most relaxed and comfortable for those intimate moments.
2. Seats and Clothing
Find the softest, most pliable seat possible and wear loose-fitting clothes when riding a bicycle, motorcycle, or scooter. Better yet, consider giving up these activities. The pressure against your already sensitive genital area can cause symptoms to flare up.
3. Give Up the Attitude of "Playing Through the Pain"
While coaches often urge athletes young and old to "play through the pain", it's vital to abandon this attitude when it comes to enduring painful sex as an adult. Please don't believe that you must have sex to please your partner despite the pain and if you don't something is fundamentally wrong with you. Nothing could be further from the truth. A loving partner would never want to cause such suffering.
4. See a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist
More and more physical therapists (PTs) are incorporating pelvic pain treatment into their practice as the urgency of effectively treating sexual pain increases. A growing number of doctors consider pelvic floor physical therapy a vital component of a complete treatment plan for sexual pain. Specialized pelvic floor PTs utilize various methods to release trigger points in the body. Trigger points develop through contraction or spasms in the muscle groups surrounding the vagina, bladder, and lower bowel. Using manual pressure, biofeedback, and other techniques these health care providers can often aid sufferers. Patients are eventually given techniques to maintain wellness at home.
Vaginismus is a condition that affects the muscles of the pelvic floor and involves involuntary spasming or clenching of the pelvic musculature. Typically this reactive tightening of the muscles is in response to insertion or the attempt of insertion of an object into the vagina, making vaginal intercourse painful and sometimes impossible. Thankfully, this condition is becoming more and more recognized by the mainstream media. But coming along with it are some misconceptions about vaginismus that we'd like to clear up.
Myth #1: Kegels Cure Vaginismus
Kegels, done correctly, are a great strengthening technique for the muscles of the pelvic floor for many women and men. However, someone who is struggling with vaginismus is not a good candidate to begin practicing kegels. While kegels may be introduced later on to help the overall pelvic and core musculature function together during certain body movements, they should be avoided at first. The focus of treatment should instead be on the ability to consciously recognize and relax the pelvic floor muscles. It is best to receive this treatment under the direction of a specialized women's health physical therapist who can guide you through imagery and biofeedback techniques. Also, consider our physical therapy digital download chapter packages to assist you at home.
Myth #2: Vaginal Dilators are Used to 'Stretch' the Muscles
Dilators are an incredibly helpful tool for those with vaginismus. Their function in the treatment process, however, isn't so much to "stretch" the tight muscles of the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor muscles are already quite capable of stretching far beyond what is needed for sexual intercourse (think, delivering a baby). The problem with vaginismus is that the central nervous system (the brain and all its related systems including the spinal cord and nerves) is sending signals to the pelvic musculature to brace itself for what it considers or 'remembers' to be painful: vaginal penetration. So dilators work by desensitizing the central nervous system (see Myth #3 for more on this) and by providing trigger point release (intentional pressure to points of muscular tension for the relief of pain, much like in your neck or shoulders). To learn more about the science of chronic pelvic pain and the use of dilators in the treatment of vaginismus, purchase the DVD Healing the Pain Down There: A Guide for Females with Persistent Genital & Sexual Pain. We recommend dilators from Syracuse Medical Devices as they are made of medical grade material and have a consistent length. It is important to have a long enough dilator to be able to reach the second layer of the pelvic floor musculature even with the smallest dilator in diameter.
Myth #3: You Just Have to Try to Relax and Keep Practicing Sex
If you continue doing as you have been doing - having sex that is painful, then setting yourself up in that same environment with your partner will actually perpetuate or re-enforce the pain - because your mind is already anticipating the pain - it is a known response and you cannot just "force" a relaxation response instead. But if we remove the “red flags” from the brain and place YOU IN CONTROL using the dilators, we can re-train the brain to realize that there doesn’t need to be a “fight or flight response”, we can begin to “unwind” the nervous system. When you start with an extra small dilator and can insert and move it and do self stretches with low to no pain - then the brain starts to realize that - OK - that wasn’t so bad and the secondary responses of muscular tensions ease also allowing for less pain and your overall confidence level with repeated successful sessions with the dilator allows you to become ready for return to intercourse with low to no pain. It is important that you abstain from intercourse (not intimacy) during dilator sessions until you can progress to the proper size. So essentially what happens is you change the perception in your brain about the health of your vagina, decreasing the sensitivity of your nervous system to keep the muscle tension in check to help achieve a good end result.
"doing mode", you're operating almost exclusively in the sympathetic branch of your autonomic nervous system. This system is associated with the "fight or flight" response, shallow breathing patterns, muscle tension, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. These stress responses of the body not only negatively influence the pelvic floor muscles but also the overall pelvic region including bladder and bowel function, both common triggers of genital, sexual, and pelvic pain.
2. Pelvic Traumas, Injuries, or Surgeries
Injuries to the pelvic floor region caused by childbirth, previous pelvic surgeries, falls on the coccyx bone, and other accidental traumas to the region such as straddle injuries can all contribute to the development of chronic pain in the pelvis and genital area. Take for instance, the condition once known as "bikers syndrome" that affects long distance bike riders. Cumulative targeted pressure on the pudenal nerve overtime can cause damage to the nerve. This particular nerve branches out into the entire vulvar region and can therefore emit painful stimuli anywhere in the pelvic region, not just at the "sits bones".
3. Present or Past Physical, Emotional, or Sexual Abuse
Memories from past (or current) abuses are stored in pathways along the central nervous system, and even in particular muscles, especially the psoas muscle. The psoas muscle has a direct and neurological connection to the pelvic floor muscles. These bad memories that are stored by the nervous system awaken when it is feeling threatened or when trying to protect itself. Even when attempting consented, pleasurable sex, the nervous system can interpret this environment as threatening. Protective measures include muscles tension and clenching (which leads to pain, which leads to the fear of pain, which leads to further clenching), and the over-sensitization of the pelvic nerves.
4. Participation in Competitive Sports
Many popular sporting activities require tight, clenched body positions and breathing from the chest in order to perform. If we are taught by these sports (or cultural influences) to suck in our stomach and breathe from the chest and clench our buttocks at all times as a matter of "good posture" this can, over time, be detrimental to the health and function of the pelvic floor. In addition, young women who participate in sports are more likely to experience sports-related injuries such as injuries to knees, ankles, legs, and hips. If a knee, for instance, is favored for a long enough period of time the opposite pelvic area takes on more stress and can contribute to pain due to compensatory patterns.
5. Genetic, Hormonal, & Dietary Influences
Structurally the body is not symmetrical and consequently curvatures of the spine, leg length difference, being left or right footed, all have a bearing on the long-term cumulative stress on one side of the pelvis or the other. Genetic and hormonal influences can also put us at risk for other triggers commonly associated with pelvic, genital, and sexual pain. For instance, endometriosis, irritable bowel syndrome, and interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome or "IC"). The dietary decisions we make also influence how and when these triggers manifest in the body. Foods can promote the inflammatory responses contributing directly to pain, but also inhibit the immune system from functioning properly.
Independent research findings from a randomized (participants chosen at random), double blind (neither the researchers nor the participants know if they are using the placebo or the magnetic dilator) study were released just last month on the VuVa magnetic vaginal dilators.
24 women with vulvar pain participated in the study. The women used both the Vuva magnetic vaginal dilators and the placebo vaginal dilators (looked and felt the same but didn't contain magnets) with a 7 day period in between in which no treatment was given. Women were asked to report their pain intensity levels before and after the use of each dilator.
Women who used the VuVa magnetic dilator reported a decrease in pain levels twice that of the placebo dilator during a tampon test. Women using the Vuva magnetic dilators experienced an average 28% decrease in pain levels during a cotton swab test. And 40% of the women reported an increase in the frequency of sexual intercourse during the study while using the Vuva magnetic dilator as compared with only 10% using the placebo dilator.
Based on these findings, the independent research study concluded that Vuva magnetic dilators are a safe and effective treatment of vulvovaginal pain, performing significantly better than the placebo dilators.
Each Vuva magnetic dilator is created with soothing Neodymium magnets to increase blood flow and add elasticity to the tissues. The dilators, which come in graduated sizes, can be used 1-2 times per day by simply allowing the dilator to rest inside the vaginal canal for 20-30 minutes. For more information go to: https://www.vuvatech.com
* Pain Down There is happy to report these findings as it provides another resource within the multi-disciplinary approach to treating genital, sexual, and pelvic pain. Not one single medical approach is likely to cure chronic pelvic pain. Please take into consideration the use of VuVa magnetic dilators along with and part of a team-based approach to pain management: physical therapy, pain science education, mindfulness training, and other allied health care professionals.
A Callout for OB-GYN Education Reform
WHO IS ACOG AND HOW DO THEY INFLUENCE THE PROTOCOL FOR PELVIC PAIN?
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is the companion organization to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Both entities are non-profit professional membership organizations for physicians providing health care to women. With over 58,000 members both The College and ACOG are recognized as the nation’s leading authority on all things women’s health. Though based out of Washington D.C. ACOG is made of various districts and sections that operate throughout the US.
The purpose of The College and ACOG is to advocate for quality health care for women, maintain the highest standards of clinical practice, maintain the highest standards of continuing education for their members, promote patient education, and increase public awareness and awareness among their members of the changing issues facing women’s health care. ACOG in particular is dedicated to the advancement of women’s health care as well as the interests of its members through medical education, research, practice, and advocacy. Operations of The College and ACOG are overseen by member elected Executive Committees, Executive Staff, and Board of Trustees.
Because of the nationally and internationally recognized authority of these organizations, they play a significant role in the influence of academia and education for students in residency who are in training to become board certified Ob-Gyn physicians. The head of The College’s Education division oversees the Council on Resident Education in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Currently, Sandra A. Carson, MD holds this position.
They also play a significant role in the influence of clinical guidelines for women’s health providers through professional materials that are made available to their members. The Vice President of Practice Activities oversees these clinical guidelines. Currently Dr. Chris Zahn is holding this executive staff position. Previously, Hal C. Lawrence III, MD held this Practice Activities position and in 2011 was appointed The College’s Executive Vice President, a position that puts him at the helm of The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
ACOG STRENGTHS & WEAKNESSES
As one can imagine, “all things women’s health” encompasses a vast array of subjects and challenges. From cervical cancer to health care reform. From pregnancy, labor and delivery to hysterectomies. From infertility to birth control to member medical liability. From mammograms to breast feeding to sexually transmitted infections. Clearly ACOG and The College (we’ll collectively call them ACOG now) is tasked with an enormous undertaking.
Focusing in on the category of “Gynecologic Problems” ACOG does have guidelines on chronic pelvic pain found in the Fourth Edition Resource Manual, copyright 2014. While the section is very short, coming in at under a page in length, there are several reasons to be hopeful that ACOG is beginning to steering things in the right direction. The guidelines say that chronic pelvic pain is common among women. And requires a multidisciplinary approach in its diagnosis and treatment. Bladder, colorectal, neurological, musculoskeletal, abuse, pelvic surgeries and traumas are all listed as potential sources of the pain. Though psychological causes are also listed, they directly instruct the reader not to ignore the significance of the pain despite normal or inconclusive physical exams, evaluations, or findings. Management of the pain is to involve addressing the underlying causes. Any cause found not to be gynecological in nature should be referred to an appropriate specialist. If the source of pain cannot be determined the manual refers readers to Part 4 on managing chronic pain, which is mostly information about opioids and anti-inflammatory medications.
In addition to the general guidelines on chronic pelvic pain, ACOG has also released a 2006 reaffirmed Committee Opinion on Vulvodynia, a 2013 reaffirmed Practice Bulletin on Female Sexual Dysfunction, and guidelines on vulvar skin disorders. These four resources in combination available to women’s health practitioners cover good ground in at least defining terms like vaginismus and vulvodynia as well some starting places for diagnosis and treatment. Somewhat disconcerting is my personal experience with these disorders in 2007 and 2008, after information would have been made available on them; yet I experienced looks of confusion from multiple practitioners who didn’t seem to be aware these terms even existed.
ACOG, according to a recent letter from Dr. Chris Zahn Vice President of Practice Activities, strives to create practice guidelines and recommendations that are “heavily based upon published medical literature, mostly from peer-reviewed journals”. Dr. Zahn goes on to say that while the research takes time, it is essential that their recommendations reflect high quality evidence and data. ACOG’s strict adherence to peer reviewed medical evidence and the vast subject areas within women’s health for which ACOG must advocate, promote, and educate could be counted among its strengths. Though, as is often the case, they could also very well be counted as two of its greatest weaknesses.
Chronic pelvic pain triggers go far beyond the scope of the currently available guidelines, opinions, and bulletins released by ACOG, even for the more common disorders that have been known to affect up to 20% of women in the U.S. alone. And, completely absent from all of these resources are two disorders in the pelvic region: Pudendal Neuralgia and Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder (or PGAD). While these conditions are thought to be rare by some practitioners, it is unknown the actual incidents in the general population. Research on the estimation of these conditions needs to catch up with actual occurrences, and account for the many individuals who present with these conditions but are misdiagnosed or ignored. Whatever the unknown figure may be, the effect on women (and men) is life altering, significantly reducing quality of life on a day by day basis, not just as it relates to sexual pain and discomfort.
Pudendal Neuralgia is characterized by sharp pain surrounding the pudendal nerve due to dysfunction or compression of this nerve. The pudendal nerve stems from the sacrum (the triangle shaped bone at the base of the spine that your tail bone is attached to) but it runs throughout the entire pelvic region. Other symptoms can include numbness, tingling, burning, and incontinence (loss of bladder or bowel control). If you feel like you need a visual tour of the pudendal nerve “google” search ‘pudendal nerve tour’ and then click on videos. (Also view this informative video by Dr. Valovska) You will gain immense respect for this nerve immediately and better understand how its injury or dysfunction could indeed cause exquisite pain and ongoing distress. Sufferers can experience PTSD due to mind-altering pain levels. Many lose the ability to work and function, being house-bound and bed-ridden. Suicide is, unfortunately, the only option many of these sufferers feel like they have, especially if no one can make sense of their pain.
Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder (PGAD) has also been thought of as Restless Genital Syndrome, as it seems to mimic other neurological disorders such as Restless Leg Syndrome. PGAD is characterized by ongoing, spontaneous, uncontrollable genital arousal that is not related to sexual desire. This persistent arousal of the genitalia is sometimes completely debilitating for those who suffer from the symptoms. Interfering with everyday tasks of life, sufferers often experience depression, anxiety and anxiety attacks, and feelings of distress and hopelessness leading to suicidal ideation and action.
THE CAMPAIGN TO REACH ACOG
Project Angel, spearheaded by Pudendal Neuralgia sufferer & artist-advocate Atara Schimmel, has been tirelessly working to bring these disorders to the attention of ACOG, requesting that these and other Chronic Pelvic Pain disorders be not only recognized but also that clear guidelines, educational objectives, and curricula be put into place for the education of both currently practicing women’s health providers and the up-and-coming generation of providers who are in the classroom and residency programs. Many personal letters and testimonies from sufferers have already been received by ACOG. We want them to see that real women and men with real stories are being impacted. And we want them to know that many have already given up. Insufficient treatment options, lack of compassion and understanding on the part of providers, and the general disinterest on the part of the institution and the public leaves sufferers with very few choices. And some of them opt to take their own lives for the lack of a better option.
Download the most recent response letter from Dr. Chris Zahn at ACOG to the Project Angel campaign. We are grateful that ACOG chooses to respond to us and that they relay their shared interest in addressing the urgent issue of debilitating pelvic pain. We respectfully disagree, however, that there is not enough scientific publications to make recommendations. At least under their “Level C” conclusions which are based on consensus and expert opinion, or under their “Level B” conclusions which are based on inconsistent scientific evidence.
For the research of this blog, I spent about two hours at my local university searching for only peer-reviewed medical journal articles on both Pudendal Neuralgia and PGAD (notice the letter from Dr. Zahn makes no mention of PGAD though we specifically asked for it to also be addressed). In that time I was able to find over 15 published articles, most of them in the last 5 years, available through that university alone on Pudendal Neuralgia. And over 20 on PGAD.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
We will continue to put respectful and appropriate pressure on ACOG to hear our pleas and create change. We do it for the millions of women and men who have already experienced chronic pelvic pain conditions and yet are unable to find OB-GYN practitioners who are able to make sense of their pain. And for the women and men who will experience CPP at some point in the future, that they might have access to the so desperately needed care that we should have received but couldn’t find.
We are petitioning ACOG to address two very specific requests:
1. Incorporate vulvovaginal and pelvic pain conditions into core curricula of gynecology and obstetrics and continuing ed.
While ACOG may be on the right track given the resources they have released via their guidelines, resource manuals, and bulletins, we are not aware that they are incorporating this vital information into the core curricula of every gynecologist’s and obstetrician’s education. And while the current information is helpful, it is lacking considerably. It is crucial that practitioners and students in their residencies and fellowship programs receive training in the assessment and management of pudendal neuralgia, persistent genital arousal disorder, vulvodynia, interstitial cystitis, endometriosis, vestibulodynia, penile pain, ejaculatory pain, irritable bowel syndrome, pelvic floor dysfunction and a variety of peripheral neuropathies that occur commonly in the pelvic region. Lichen simplex, lichen sclerosis, and lichen planus are common skin disorders affecting the genitalia and also must be recognized. Many CPP patients experience multiple conditions that are interrelated. A multidisciplinary approach to diagnosing and treating vulvovaginal, penile and pelvic pain is imperative.
2. Create guidelines, educational objectives, and curricula for Pudendal Neuralgia (PN) and Persistent Genital Arousal Disorder (PGAD)
While ACOG may currently recognize some CPP conditions in their guidelines such as vaginismus and vulvodynia, they don’t recognize PN or PGAD in their guidelines. We want to see these two disorders be specifically recognized by ACOG and guidelines and educational objectives be created for addressing them. Therefore also including them into the core curricula for students and practitioners as we are requesting in our first point above.
We fully realize that these requests require time, energy, effort, and resources from ACOG and that this, along with their many other responsibilities, is a massive undertaking. We support them, we will send them our findings, we can recommend doctors to them that are having successes. But simply put, all OB-GYN practitioners need to know the basics of all CPP disorders and the basics of the multi-disciplinary approaches that are used to treat them. Perhaps there needs to be a re-structuring to allow for specialists in CPP related conditions that are either under the ACOG authority or under the authority of a different entity. But there is no excuse for any OB-GYN to tell a patient that pain "must be in their head". It must become the standard norm that all OB-GYN practitioners recognize CPP and its interrelated triggers and at least be aware of the treatment modalities available so they can make appropriate referrals and recommendations.
Please join us in the campaign! More voices from many different directions will influence the changing of the tide, the paradigm shift that will ultimately turn something this massive in a whole new and better direction.
Here’s how to help:
Loved one with a personal experience
Public Advocate (no personal experience but want to contribute to the campaign)
PAINFUL SEX PREVENTION
Prevention is a noun. An action. Something we have to do. While the triggers or reasons for persistent painful sex and chronic pelvic pain disorders can be complex, interconnected, and varied let's start with what we do know.
Tight and clenched stomach, buttocks, legs and chest-breathing, carried over into everyday tasks and daily living, can be harmful to the pelvic floor. And a tight, tense, and too "turned-on" pelvic floor will eventually lose its proper function.
Many sporting activities require these tight body positions in order to perform them well. Dance, running, gymnastics, track, soccer, martial arts, and others place heavy emphasis on core strength, tight body positions and breathing from the chest instead of the abdomen.
Along with overly clenching techniques associated with training for many of these sports, there have been more injuries to young women over the past number of years with increasingly competitive young female athletes. Injuries to ankles, knees, hips, tailbones, and straddle type vulvar traumas all have contributed to chronic pelvic and sexual pain, as well.
The book entitled: “Warrior Girls: Protecting Our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women’s Sports” by Michael Sokolove points out the consequences of cumulative injuries in young women, not necessarily solely from the lack of appropriate training over the course of their pre and post pubertal years, but also by the exuberance and passion and competitiveness that so many girls exhibit during the course of their athletic years. He points out that so much has been learned in the fields of sports medicine and training that could be preventative for injury, but that commonly, many factors prevent the implementation of good practices by the coaches, trainers, and even the parents of these young women.
These cautions are certainly not meant to endorse quitting sports all together. Instead, we are asking you to be aware that you need to let clenched body positions go when you walk out of practice or performance. If you are a family member or friend of a young female athlete who may have the early symptoms of pelvic pain, try to talk to them about the consequences of holding clenched body positions even though this is quite counter-cultural right now, because it seems everyone is out there trying to actually “strengthen their core”.
If you are injured or feel pain, don’t allow yourself or a family member or friend to “push through the pain” to keep performing. If you would like to learn about our prevention and education initiatives or would like to donate to the program please visit The Foundation for the Prevention of Chronic Pelvic Pain at thefpcpp.org (Now teamed up with Bridge for Pelvic Pain).
Watch the CHapter on Prevention:
Chapter 6: The Pelvic Floor: An Overview
Watch Chapter 6 of the Video Resource Series Healing the Pain 'Down There': A Guide for Females with Persistent Genital & Sexual Pain.
This chapter introduces the physical therapy component of the DVD. Hear from Karen Liberi, a physical therapist specializing in women's health and pelvic pain for over 16 years. Learn how to view pelvic pain as a threshold of pain and how to affect and move this threshold through techniques we will teach you.
What feels like "there is no rhyme or reason for my pain" will start to have a rhyme and a reason. The feeling of "I don't know where the pain is coming from" becomes "this is the reason for my pain and I can do something about it". The global feeling of pain in the pelvis becomes an identifiable, local area of pain that can be addressed with the strategies given.
If you're one of millions of women suffering from painful sexual intercourse, pain after sex, vaginal pain or a myriad of other persistent, unpleasant sensations in the pelvic region: we're offering a way for you to receive a free guide for healing the pain 'down there'.
For a limited time [September 15, 2015 - December 15, 2015] refer any health care provider (PT, Doctor, NP, Nutritionist, etc.) to register for our Health Care Provider Bulk Discount Page and we'll send you the full digital download for free! No purchase is necessary from the health care provider you refer. So spread the word and help yourself, help your healthcare providers, and help your health care providers help others!
Health Care Providers:
If you're a health care provider working in any area of women's health and you come across patients looking for help for painful intercourse, consider offering them a tangible, on the spot resource. Make the DVD Healing the Pain Down There: A Guide for Females with Persistent Genital & Pelvic Pain available for purchase in your office or clinic. Just register for our Health Care Provider Bulk Discount Page then order 3 or more DVDs at the discounted price of $50 a piece and resell the DVDs at your practice for at least the retail list price of $64.95. You/Your Practice keeps the difference. Orders of 10 or more DVDs qualify for free shipping, even internationally.
If you have questions please contact us!
The psoas (said like so-az) is an extremely important muscle. It plays an important role in postural and structural stability as well as in respiration. This muscle attaches from the front part of your lower spine to the front part of your hip allowing you to bring your knee to your chest.
Several interconnected factors going on in the psoas and surrounding areas can affect pelvic, genital and sexual pain. For instance, because there are nerves that run through the psoas, if the muscles are too tight they could be pressing on the nerves and contributing to pain. In another instance, if this hip musculature is too tight it forces the angle of the pelvis forward, causing excessive curvature of the lower back which affects our ability to regulate the tension of the pelvic floor.
Therefore, a properly functioning, released, and relaxed psoas muscle is crucial in the process of healing the pain "down there" and maintaining health and functionality in the pelvis.
The long-awaited Video Guide Healing the Pain 'Down There': A Guide for Females with Persistent Genital & Sexual Pain is now available for purchase.
A woman with chronic pelvic pain brought together a team of multidisciplinary professionals to create this instructional and educational DVD guide for those suffering with “pain down there”. The team represents over 50 years of experience in women’s health related fields including OB/GYN, physical therapy, mindfulness techniques, and human sexuality with their focus being on the treatment of pelvic pain. This educational video is intended for women of all ages who are experiencing pain during intercourse who want to learn why they have their symptoms and learn strategies to improve them. This video is also for teens and young women who may be at risk for developing these symptoms, and for clinicians who are practicing in the field of women’s health.
“Groundbreaking … “
Jill Osborne, MA
ICN Founder & CEO
“A well designed comprehensive view of pelvic pain from a multidisciplinary perspective and clear options for returning to health and well being.”
Sandra Hilton, PT, DPT, MS
“A very important resource for many women...”
Frank Tu, M.D., MPH
" Respected pelvic practitioners create a road map to navigate the challenging path of healing pelvic pain."
Dustienne Miller PT, MS, WCS
An important way to promote or restore function and control of the pelvic floor is through the breath. Clenched abdomen and habitual breathing from the chest directly affects the pelvic floor, making it too tight/tense and "turned on" which can contribute to sexual pain. Shallow chest breathing also cues our bodies into the tensing, fight or flight mode of the nervous system (see previous blog).
Breathing is meant to come from the abdomen/diaphragm, not from the chest. If you've been taught by sports or cultural influences to suck in your abs and breathe from your chest you may need to re-train your body to breathe appropriately. Musculoskeletally, the respiratory diaphragm and the pelvic floor work together.
As you inhale .... the diaphragm lowers and the pelvic floor expands.
As you exhale... the diaphragm and pelvic floor return to their elevated positions.
Therefore, if you are constantly breathing from your chest, your pelvic floor never gets a chance to relax and expand. Mentally check into your breath pattern throughout the day to ensure proper breathing techniques. We go more in depth about how to do this in the DVD, Healing the Pain 'Down There': A Guide for Females with Persistent Genital and Sexual Pain.
Continuing to have sex that is painful will perpetuate or reinforce the pain. This is because the mind is already anticipating the pain, it is a known response within the same environment you keep putting yourself in - having sex with your partner. But if we can remove the "red flags" from the brain and place you in control through the use of dilators, we can re-train the brain. We can unwind that "fight or flight" response within the nervous system.
When you start with an extra small dilator and can insert it, move it, do self stretches with no to low pain - then the brain starts to realize that "ok, that wasn't so bad" and the secondary response of muscular tensions ease, allowing for less pain. Scanning and mapping the pelvic floor alongside your dilator use also helps the brain perceive these muscles in a more normalized way. This allows for much less "red flag signals" being sent to the brain. Your overall confidence level with repeated successful sessions with the dilator and vaginal canal mapping allows you return to intercourse with low to no pain. So essentially what you are doing is changing the perception in your brain about the health of your vagina and decreasing the sensitivity of the nervous system to keep muscle tension in check.
Along with dilator work there are other exercises such as flexibility work to the hips and trunk and relaxation breathing to quiet the nervous system. It is important that during this process you abstain from sexual intercourse. But of course this is not to say that you abstain from intimacy. We strongly recommend the personalized training of a women's health physical therapist to guide you. You can also use these and other techniques taught in our DVD guide under the consultation of a health care provider.
*Be advised that some conditions such as Vulvar Vestibulodynia (Vestibulitis) may need further medical management before beginning the use of dilators.
Take a look at the image in the blog post just below. This image of the female pelvis is incomplete because there is a great deal more to the anatomy of the female pelvis that is just not shown in this image. The pictures in this blog post show much more of the complete anatomy of the pelvic region.
The actual causes of chronic, persistent pain itself are in all of these neuro-myofascial components: Nerves, Muscles, and Ligaments. Bladder, bowel, and reproductive organs are commonly acting as "triggers" that set off painful, but protective responses in the region. Just as in any other area of the body, the muscles, nerves, and ligaments go into a protective bracing mode as a result of current tissue injury, protecting against further injury, and even when the system is reminded of past injury. These structures are trying to immobilize the region in order to control the pain.
Comprehensive assessment and treatment of chronic pelvic pain therefore will naturally include specialized pelvic floor physical therapy to rehab and release long term muscle spasming and trigger points, as well as a working knowledge of diagnosing and managing chronic nerve type pain in the pelvic and genital region.
Over the last several weeks I (Stephanie) have been busy trying to catch up at work, getting to my commitments on-time, and generally just trying to keep my head above water among all of life’s responsibilities. What typically is a low to no pain sexual experience for me one night turned out to be excruciating pain instead. I alerted my husband and we enjoyed other forms of intimacy (I never go through with painful sex, it only serves to heighten the fear of it next time). When we discussed it later I expressed my frustration: “I don’t know why it’s hurting, it doesn’t make any sense”. I set out my towel and pillows to use my dilators so I could get a sense for where the pain was and why. The smallest dilator was difficult for me, which is usually never the case. As I worked through the process it began to hit me. Of course it made sense!
In my constant rush I’d neglected to practice my massage techniques on my stomach and inner thighs for days. After my dilator use (I could only successfully use the smallest size without resistance) I immediately grabbed the lotion and sure enough, very tight, tense, and painful sections in both areas. I had multiple trigger points to release. As I practiced my relaxation breathing while holding pressure on the trigger points I realized I’d been holding my stomach tense and had slipped back into “chest breathing”. I also noticed areas of tension in my hips. So after my massage techniques I got my tennis ball and found these points of tension and pain in my hips. I then stretched my hip musculature and did hip strengthening exercises. I was reminded of the couple times over the week I had worked out. Maybe I had overdone it a bit, after all my inner thighs are touching so I could be getting fat. And in my morning and evening rush I’d forgotten my probiotics and hadn’t been very mindful during the day of drinking enough water. The recollection came to me that my stools had been hard to pass lately.
I scolded myself that night for putting my pain on the back burner. If I had been mindful to check in mentally with my stomach, hips, legs and pelvic floor I would have caught the fact that they were holding tension. If I had sat down for a few minutes to participate in guided mediation it would have prompted me to notice these areas of tension I was holding in my body. If I would have taken my work out slower, not been so concerned with my body image, and more diligently drank water and remembered my probiotics I could have avoided this current predicament. Grateful for the reminders, I forgave myself and went to bed.
The next morning I woke up with the image of the volume dial in my head. Over several weeks all of the combined factors added up and my pain volume dial got turned way up! Stress: notch up. Chest breathing: notch up. Muscle tension: notch up. Hard and big stool: notch up. Lack of water: notch up. And then I went into sex expecting a pain-free experience. With a new-found commitment I pledged to take the daily steps to turn that volume dial back down. Keeping this promise to myself might mean I don’t get as much done in a day. It might mean that I’m not as skinny as I’d like to be. It might mean asking for help more than I’m usually willing to admit I need so I have more space and time for healing and mindfulness. But I’ll do it. Whatever it takes. Because sexual pain is not acceptable. It’s not good for me. And It’s not good for my relationship with my husband. And those are the things that truly matter to me. *
Caution Ladies: This is what my journey looks like right now. And we hope that it connects the dots for you on how inter-related factors can add on top of each other, causing the pain volume dial to get turned up. Not everyone, including me, can always take the time and effort to perfectly keep the pain volume dial turned down. Children, work, demanding partners all come into play. We encourage you to not let feelings of guilt creep in if you can’t keep up. Guilt and its side effects are counter productive in managing your pain. Give yourself lots of grace in this area and just do what you can, when you can.
Q: I now have “pain down there” for no apparent reason. The first time I had sex it was slightly painful but the pain faded away and felt good. On a few other occasions following that time, the same thing would occur: a little bit of pain but then fading away. But lately if we switch positions or he falls out he cannot insert again. If he does it’s excruciating pain for me. He can’t put it in again, it feels “too tight”. I experience burning pain during sex and afterwards it hurts to urinate (only right after we have sex though). I’d go to a doctor but I have no insurance so I’m unable to afford it. What’s going on?
A: First of all, let us assure you that you are not alone in experiencing these symptoms. There are countless individuals going through very similar situations right now, many of whom also are not getting helpful answers from the medical community. We often see "UTIs" and "yeast infections" overly diagnosed in cases like yours. Of course you need to rule these out. But this can easily be done by going to a nurse practitioner at a Planned Parenthood clinic (fees are usually reasonable even without insurance). If the tests are negative or the treatments don’t help you, don’t continue to accept antibiotics or creams that aren’t proving to be affective in treating your pain. Please also consider:
1. Be sure to always use a good vaginal lubricant, such as Astroglide Gel (not the liquid), another product actually named "Slippery Stuff" which you can find on-line, or even simple coconut oil. These products are generally tolerated by most women even if they have minor inflammation at the vaginal opening (Vestibule). Make sure to put these lubricants on yourself and your partner to eliminate any friction which can help to minimize the pain
2. You could also be experiencing muscular restriction at the vaginal opening (Pelvic Floor Dysfunction - a clenching response to increased sensitivity to touch or friction at the Vestibule). With initial penetration - these muscles (pubovaginalis) are stretched, which may be creating your initial burning pain which then subsides as sex continues. Any time re-entry needs to happen (switching positions or him falling out), your brain perceives this as a "dangerous" situation and your pubovaginalis "clenches" to protect the area of pain. There are certainly exercises that can be done to help to 1) stretch the vaginal opening and 2) retrain the brain that your vaginal opening is not a "danger zone" so that the red flags gradually fade and your gripping reflex is no longer present allowing your partner to enter with low to no pain.
3. Since you say you have "excruciating pain" with penetration, the simple suggestions above may not be helpful enough. If you have already tried these simpler solutions and they are not helpful and you continue with pain, you may have the early signs of vulvar vestibulitis as well as interstitial cystitis / painful bladder syndrome (IC) contributing to penetration pain. Early signs of both of these conditions are quite common in young women. (Usually deeper penetration pain is associated with IC as the tip of the penis "hits" the irritated bladder. Initial penetration pain can be associated with vulvar vestibulitis as the sensitive tissue of the irritated vestibule are stretched) Consider drinking more water and de-acidifying the body by lowering acids in the diet to lower the inflammation that can occur in the bladder, urethra and vestibule. To download our Vaginal Health Guide click here.
4. Our DVD Healing the Pain 'Down There’ can help educate you on why this all might be happening and will give you strategies to help make it better yourself and also to help find professionals who may know more about these issues.
Paindownthere.com and the educational/instructional videos Healing the Pain ‘Down There’ intend to explain, as best as possible, that there are many reasons in the pelvis for pelvic floor dysfunction and for genital and pelvic pain. One of these reasons may be hypertonicity (as posted about last time). Virtually everyone with pain, caused by all sorts of injuries to the body, has reactive hypertonicity in and around that injured area. The muscles around a knee injury or shoulder injury, for instance, always tighten to guard that area and stabilize or “splint” that area. Same in the pelvis. The way that pain is processed in the brain along with fear and anxiety factors can also continue to cause hypertonicity even after the initial injury has healed. Mind/body aspects of care become so important in this instance.
Other reasons or “triggers" in the pelvis for pelvic floor dysfunction and for genital and pelvic pain besides the implications of hypertonicity include:
Somatic reasons: Current or previous injuries or stress on all of the surrounding structural entities. These structural entities include bone, muscle, fascia (connective tissue), ligaments, and nerves.
Visceral reasons: Organ dysfunction like IC (Interstitial Cystitis or Painful Bladder Syndrome), IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), Endometriosis, Prostatitis and others.
We want to help “connect these dots” for all the potential and interconnected sources or “triggers” of chronic pain in the pelvic and genital area.
Hypertonic pelvic floor muscles (or hypertonicity) are too tight and tense which can lead to pain and can also create weakness which can actually lead to incontinence (loss of control) of the bladder. Hypotonic pelvic floor muscles (or hypotonicity) are too loose and can also lead to incontinence of both the bladder and the bowels. So both hypertonicity and hypotonicity can lead to loss of bladder control. However, loss of bowel control is more often associated with hypotonic related weakness. Pain would only be associated with hypertonicity. So to recap:
Hypertonic pelvic floor muscles (hypertonicity):
Hypotonic pelvic floor muscles (hypotonicity):
Is your posture and the way that you breathe negatively affecting your pelvic floor, meaning contributing to pain and dysfunction, or positively affecting your pelvic floor, meaning contributing to function and health in the pelvic region?
Stephanie Yeager: Passionate about spreading the word of hope and healing for those like her, influencing a paradigm shift in the medical community toward greater understanding of chronic pelvic pain disorders, and prevention initiatives that may protect young women before onset can occur.