Pelvic pain is quite a serious problem, especially more so in women than in men. Research shows that approximately 1 in 7 women ends up suffering from Chronic Pelvic Pain, also known as CPP. Another report shows us that of all referrals to gynecologists, 10% are for pelvic pain. This does not mean, however, that pelvic pain is something only women go through at some point in their lives. Men can become the target of pain in the pelvic area as well. The chances and occurrence rates of that compared to women, however, are so low that pelvis pains are often perceived as something only females suffer from.
So, what really is pelvic pain? What causes it? How can you try to overcome it? What are the solutions and remedies that can help you if you, unfortunately, are or become a victim? We talk about all that and more in this blog post.
What is Pelvic Pain?
Before we start explaining what can be defined as pelvic pain, we will first discuss the pelvis. The pelvis can be described as the lowest part of the abdomen in the human body. Since pelvic pain is something that affects women on a much larger scale, we will be focusing on and discussing all things pelvic pain in relation to women more so than men.
The pelvis is responsible for housing some very important organs of your body including the bowel, bladder, womb or uterus, and the ovaries. Pelvic pain is discomfort that you experience in the region of the body which we have just described as the pelvis. It can originate from any of the organs we have just mentioned, the nearby muscles, blood vessels or the joints.
As you can see, there are many elements in that region of your body which could be the culprit behind the pain that just won’t go away. You have probably experienced pelvic pain at some point in your life, but unless it has been recurring in nature or something that you haven’t been able to get rid of, you don’t need to worry. Why? Because this is what we would call acute pelvic pain which goes away in less than three months or so. Alternatively, on the other end of the pain spectrum is chronic pain, something we have already mentioned at the start of this blog post.
Chronic means that the pain has been consistent and has been causing a problem for you for quite some time now. Doctors usually classify a pain as chronic if it lasts for three to six months or more. Therefore, if you or someone you know has been the victim of pelvic pain that has refused to leave even after months passed by, it is more than likely that it is Chronic Pelvic Pain.
In women, pain arising in the lowest part of their abdomen points toward symptoms arising from the reproductive, urinary or digestive systems, or from musculoskeletal sources. The intensity of the pain depends on the source. It can be dull or sharp; constant or intermittent; mild, moderate or severe. What’s more is that it can lead to further problems for you too. It can, for example, spread to the patient’s lower back, buttocks, or thighs, causing even more discomfort. Some people experience pelvic pains only at certain times or only during certain activities such as urination or sexual activity.
What Causes Pelvic Pain?
The causes of pelvic pain in both men and women are too many to count. In this blog post, we discuss the more common ones, primarily in women.
Miscarriages are one of the most common culprits behind pelvic pain. A miscarriage is a loss of pregnancy at any time up to the 24th week. Stats show that seven or eight out of every 10 miscarriages occur before 13 weeks of pregnancy have elapsed. Vaginal bleeding and lower abdominal cramps are the usual symptoms that might signal towards a miscarriage.
Although quite rare, an ectopic pregnancy can be a cause for pelvic pain too. An ectopic pregnancy is one in which the embryo attaches outside the uterus or womb. Symptoms pointing towards this include pain on one side of the lower abdomen or pelvis. The pain might be sharp and occur unexpectedly or perhaps develop and worsen slowly over several days. An ectopic pregnancy makes up only 1% of all pregnancies, so it is something quite rare.
Normal labor usually starts after 37 weeks of pregnancy have been completed. Labor before that time would definitely fall under the premature category. If you experience or notice a gush of fluid from your vagina well before your due date, it might be a sign that your water has broken, and the baby is on the way. Premature labor can cause pelvic pain too. Pelvic pains that come and go in a regular pregnancy can also be a cause for concern and something that should be discussed with your doctor immediately.
Rupture of the Corpus Luteum Cyst
A corpus luteum is a temporary structure in the ovaries that releases hormones such as progesterone that help maintain the pregnancy in the initial stages. The corpus luteum cyst usually forms after the release of the egg at ovulation and is often discovered by chance during an ultrasound examination that you might be having for any reason. Most of the time, these cysts cause no problems at all and clear automatically without treatment, but sometimes they can become swollen and even burst. This might result in sharp pain on one side of your pelvis. Needless to say, if you experience pain in your pelvis during the first 12 weeks of your pregnancy, you should immediately consult your doctor.
In the female reproductive system, an egg is released by one of the two ovaries every month. This process, known as ovulation, results in pain for many women. The location of the pain may vary - it could be on different sides every month depending on which ovary released the egg. The pain often lasts only for a few hours, but some women find that it is severe in nature and causes them a lot of discomfort.
Dysmenorrhea or menstrual cramps is another kind of pain that occurs in the pelvic region. The pain and discomfort you experience in your lower abdomen region during your period is often mild but, in some cases, it can reach very high and unbearable levels. 1 in 10 women reports period pain being so severe that it affects their ability to carry out their day-to-day activities. Often, the pain can be so unmanageable that it keeps them from going to school or work. Severe period pain is not all that common and something that should definitely be consulted with your doctor, especially if your periods progressively become more painful and heavy.
Chronic Pelvic Pain
As mentioned above, pelvic pain that has lasted for more than around six months is termed as CPP or Chronic Pelvic Pain. It is reported that 1 in every 6 women might suffer from chronic pelvic pain - this goes to show that the condition is quite common. Sometimes a cause for the pain, such as those mentioned above, can be found easily, while at others, it may remain hidden for a while.
Often, however, it is difficult to accurately determine the cause and source for CPP. Depression, chronic stress, and past history of sexual or physical abuse have been found to increase one’s risk of developing chronic pelvic pain. Emotional stress and distress will often lead to making the pain worse for you and also result in even more emotional distress as a result.
Other causes behind pelvic pains in both men and women include, but are not limited to:
Bowel or bladder problems
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Muscle and Bone Problems
And many more.
Solutions for Relief
As it turns out, pelvic pain is a lot more common than you would have thought and affects a large number of people around the world. The next question, then, is how can you get relief from the pain? What can help either rid you of this pain forever or at least reduce it to manageable levels? While we have covered a lot of causes for pelvic pain in this blog post, it is still quite possible that the reason for your particular pain is something entirely different. This is why it cannot be stressed enough that if you or someone you know is suffering from pelvic pain, it is important to not ignore the symptoms and avoid diagnosing yourself - go see a doctor as soon as possible.
While in some cases pelvic pain might be wholly curable, in others, it is often found that, despite all efforts, there really isn’t much you can do about it. The first thing doctors attempt to do when dealing with pelvic pain, as with any disease, is to try and determine the root cause. Diagnosing the actual issue is the first step in ensuring relevant treatment. Some women, unfortunately, never receive the correct diagnosis or at least one that is specific to their pain. If you and your doctors can’t put your finger on why the pain is occurring and determine how to solve the problem, then the treatment is often focused on helping patients manage the pain.
Taking Care of Your Mental Health
The worst thing you can do when dealing with pelvic pain is to let it get to you and allow it to affect your mental state. Experts agree that aside from being biological in nature, the causes for the pain can be psychological and social as well. Emotional distress and stress will hold you back from overcoming the pain. Mediation or consultation with psychologists and psychotherapists can be especially helpful in this regard.
Exercise is another solution that can be really helpful in this regard. Not only does exercise increase blood flow, it also releases chemicals that make you feel good and help you manage your pain better. Heat can also be really helpful in this regard. Sitting in a tub of warm water can help alleviate pain when it gets too much. Keeping a diary of your routine and habits can help you ascertain triggers for your pain and help you make changes where needed.
As mentioned above, the cause of your pelvic pain can be one of hundreds of possibilities, some of which are a lot more serious than others. If you are not sure what the cause of the pain is or if it is too severe for you to handle, see a doctor immediately.
Distortions in the pelvis can affect the pelvic floor, as the body tries to adapt to a constant torque or a constant pressure on the pelvis. The muscles constantly engage, or guard, and you have neuromechanical dysfunction, meaning movement is distorted. This is a natural physiological response; the body is trying to protect you from further injury. However, this is not how a normal body should function, and is a precursor to a host of other issues. This is the start of a downward spiral of degeneration, muscle sprains and strains, compensatory patterns, trigger points (I talk about trigger points in the pain relief chapter), and pelvic floor dysfunction. You may have distortions in the pelvis for years before the symptoms show up or it may be just a short time. It may have originated from a fall, from being pregnant, or the birthing process itself.
The myriad of symptoms manifested from a misaligned pelvis will often lead to a misdiagnosis of the underlying issue. Pelvic misalignment can cause groin pain, pubic pain, constipation, painful periods, poor circulation in legs and feet, pain changing positions from sitting to standing, pain lying down and pelvic floor issues! The wide variety of symptoms often leads doctors to (incorrectly) give a diagnosis that fits the particular symptom you are presenting, not understanding the root cause is a misaligned pelvis.
As a chiropractor, I specialize in this area. After a chiropractic adjustment, the pelvis starts moving and the muscles relax. They don’t have to guard anymore and neuromechanical function is restored. Without a chiropractic adjustment, the pelvic muscles remain under stress, resulting in constant asymmetrical muscle contractions. The muscles become tendinous (or tighter) to stabilize the area. Chronicity sets in. Some muscles shorten, others overwork and become strained. Ligaments are affected and sprained. Trigger points emerge. Pelvic floor dysfunction develops. Any pelvic floor organs can also be affected; the reproductive organs, the urinary bladder, the colon, and the rectum.
Pelvic pain, like any other illness, can severely affect the ability of an individual to function normally. While it is a lot more common in women than in men, both can suffer from it for a wide variety of reasons. Determining the cause through a strong diagnosis and making efforts to treat it accordingly is essential in reducing and/or managing the pain so that it remains under tolerable levels. Homeopathic medicine can also come to the rescue when nothing else seems to be working, helping women and men lead their lives in a better, more pain-free way.
Dr. Lavonne Pineda, DC
Author Decoding Pelvic Pain