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Pelvic Floor Pain: Understanding, Effects, and Next Steps

If you are experiencing ongoing pain in your lower belly or pelvic area, you may feel at a loss about what is actually happening. Especially for women, it’s not uncommon to experience pains in the pelvic area, and deciphering whether the pain is period pain, pelvic floor pain, or something else entirely can be difficult. According to some studies, the prevalence of pelvic floor pain in women can range from 10% to 30%, based on factors such as age, reproductive status (e.g., pre- or post-menopausal), and the presence of other underlying health conditions. 

So what is pelvic floor pain, what’s not, and how can you tell the difference? What are the most common causes and solutions for pelvic floor pain? In this article, we’ll share some of our thoughts around pelvic floor pain, and provide our recommendations on what to do next.

How can you differentiate between pelvic floor pain and other pelvic pain?

Before we get into the ins and outs of pelvic floor pain causes, effects, and treatments, we’ll first want to determine if your pain is actually pelvic floor pain, or something else entirely. Differentiating pelvic floor pain from other forms of pelvic pain can be challenging, as symptoms may overlap. However, certain clues can help distinguish pelvic floor pain:

Location and Character of Pain

Pelvic floor pain is typically localized in the pelvic region, often described as aching, burning, or pressure. It may worsen with specific activities, prolonged sitting, or certain positions.

Associated Symptoms

Pelvic floor pain may be accompanied by urinary or bowel symptoms, such as urinary urgency, frequency, pain with urination, or pain during bowel movements. We discuss more of the symptoms of pelvic floor pain later on, so it may be helpful to read through them to see if your discomfort matches any of these common symptoms.

Response to Relaxation Techniques

Pelvic floor pain often responds positively to relaxation techniques, such as warm baths, deep breathing, or gentle stretching exercises targeting the pelvic floor muscles. A good first step might be to try some relaxation techniques to see if the pain lessens. If it does, not only will you find some relief, but you may have a path forward to fix the problem more completely. 

What are the most common symptoms and effects of pelvic floor pain?

Pelvic floor pain can have a significant impact on an individual’s physical, emotional, and social well-being. Pelvic floor pain can affect both men and women, but it is more common in women due to factors such as pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause. The pain can be acute or chronic and may range from mild to severe, and can really impact a person’s quality of life.

While this is not an exhaustive list, some of the most common effects and symptoms of pelvic floor pain are:

Chronic Pain

Persistent or recurring pain in the pelvic region can significantly affect daily activities, mobility, and overall quality of life. Sometimes this can also result in more acute and painful episodes like pelvic floor muscle spasms.

Sexual Dysfunction

Pelvic floor pain may lead to pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse, impacting intimacy and sexual relationships.

Urinary and Bowel Dysfunction

Pelvic floor pain can disrupt normal bladder and bowel function, leading to symptoms such as urinary urgency, frequency, hesitancy, or difficulty with bowel movements.

Emotional Distress

Dealing with chronic pain can cause emotional distress, including feelings of frustration, anxiety, depression, or a sense of loss of control over one’s body.

Impact on Daily Life

Pelvic floor pain can limit physical activity, work productivity, and social interactions, affecting overall quality of life.

pelvic floor pain | Every Mother

What are the most common causes of pelvic floor pain?

So what causes pelvic floor pain? Pelvic floor pain can be caused by quite a few factors, and can affect just about anyone. It’s naturally most common in women, as there tends to be more stress on the pelvic floor, particularly during pregnancy and childbirth. 

Pelvic floor pain can affect women of all ages, but it is often more commonly reported in certain groups, including:

  • Pregnant women: Pelvic floor pain can arise during pregnancy due to the increased pressure on the pelvic region and the stretching of ligaments.
  • Postpartum women: After childbirth, some women may experience pelvic floor pain due to trauma or injury during delivery.
  • Menopausal women: Hormonal changes during menopause can affect the pelvic floor muscles, potentially leading to pain or discomfort.

Here are some of the most common causes of pelvic floor pain:

Muscle Dysfunction

Muscle tension or spasms in the pelvic floor muscles can lead to pain and discomfort. This may occur due to factors such as trauma (often from childbirth), chronic stress, hormonal changes, or overuse of the muscles.

Pelvic Floor Disorders

Conditions like pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, or chronic prostatitis can contribute to pelvic floor pain. Also, when pelvic organs shift from their normal positions causing prolapse, it can lead to pain and discomfort.

Surgery or Trauma

Pelvic surgeries, childbirth, accidents, or injuries that impact the pelvic area can cause pelvic floor pain.

Nerve Dysfunction

Nerve irritation or entrapment, such as pudendal neuralgia, can generate pain in the pelvic floor region.

Psychological Factors

Stress, anxiety, depression, or emotional trauma can contribute to or exacerbate pelvic floor pain.

If you suspect your pain is from your pelvic floor, what are the next steps?

Because pelvic floor pain can significantly impact a person’s quality of life and daily activities, it is essential for individuals experiencing symptoms to seek medical attention. A healthcare provider can conduct a thorough evaluation, identify potential underlying causes, and recommend appropriate treatments to manage and alleviate the pain. Treatments may include physical therapy, medication, lifestyle changes, or, in some cases, surgery.

In many cases, there are things you can do at home to help relax, strengthen, and heal your pelvic floor. Have confidence that you can find a path forward to living pain free!

Here are some steps you should take if you suspect that your pain stems from your pelvic floor:

Consult a Healthcare Provider

Start by scheduling an appointment with a healthcare provider experienced in pelvic floor disorders, such as a urologist, gynecologist, or pelvic floor physical therapist. They can conduct a thorough evaluation, including a medical history review, physical examination, and potentially recommend further diagnostic tests to identify the underlying cause.

Seek a Comprehensive Evaluation

A comprehensive evaluation may involve pelvic floor muscle assessment, assessment of other pelvic structures, imaging studies, or referral to other specialists if necessary. Pelvic floor pain can also be multifactorial, so it is common to see medical diagnoses along with muscular pain, like endometriosis, ovarian cysts, or uterine fibroid just to mention a few.

Discuss Symptoms and Medical History

Be prepared to discuss your symptoms, including the location, intensity, and duration of pain, as well as any associated urinary, bowel, or sexual symptoms. Provide a detailed medical history, including any previous surgeries, trauma, or relevant medical conditions.

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