Chronic pelvic pain - defined as pain below your belly button and between your hips lasting more than six months - does not discriminate.
It can affect men as well as women, and people of all ages.
It can have many causes - and be a condition of its own, or a symptom of another condition.
According to Kristen Maike, Beaumont physical and occupational therapy supervisor who works with chronic pelvic pain patients, it can take an average of seven years for a diagnosis for pelvic pain.
“Although it’s more common than you think, patients with pelvic pain feel alone,” said Maike. “Most think they have a strange and rare condition that no one knows about. Sadly, because there are no tests or imaging that shows a cause, they often are told it is all in their head. These patients typically see several physicians and are confused about what type of doctor to see. Pelvic pain causes stress and anxiety - and anxiety and stress can cause pelvic pain.”
Symptoms can include some or all of the following:
- urinary - burning, pressure and bladder urgency, often mistaken for a urinary tract infection.
- gastrointestinal - bloating, abdominal pain or constipation
- sexual - painful intercourse or genitalia pain
- orthopedic - back pain or pain while sitting
Chronic pelvic pain can be caused by underlying diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, interstitial cystitis or endometriosis in women, or prostatitis in men.
But it can also be caused or worsened by daily habits or behaviors, such as:
- butt clenching during times of stress - a very common cause
- posture and positioning - like sitting and leaning to one side, or consistently crossing your legs on one side of your body
- wearing tight underwear or clothing that doesn’t allow your body to breathe
- use of perfume in the vaginal area
- dehydration - drinking enough water throughout the day is critical for good bowel and bladder health; try to drink at least 6 - 8 glasses (1.5 - 2 liters) of fluid each day
- exercise - doing heavy, loaded squats can overstress and overstimulate your pelvic region; proper breathing during this exercise can help alleviate this threat
- cycling on a bike without a proper seat can cause pressure leading to pelvic pain
Luckily, chronic pelvic pain is very treatable.
“Once the driver of the pain is identified, people can get better very quickly,” said Maike, who’s one of six board-certified women’s health clinical specialists at Beaumont.
“The therapies we offer go beyond Kegel exercises,” explained Maike. “We educate patients about their body, what may be driving their pain and how they can positively affect their own health and wellbeing.
Once the driver of the pain is identified, people can get better very quickly.Maike
Treatments for pelvic pain may include:manually stretching a patient’s muscles; full body yoga-type stretches; breathing and relaxation exercises to relax the pelvic floor; guided imagery; the use of devices, such as dilators or biofeedback devices; or the use of personal devices such as phone apps.
“Our main goal is to understand what is driving their pain and get their pain to a level that they will be able to take care of themselves, if the pain returns or increases,” said Maike. “Because chronic pain has many causes, we offer a multidisciplinary approach that includes nutrition, physical therapy, medication, medical interventions, integrative medicine, and that addresses the emotional and psychological needs of patients.”