Chronic pelvic pain (CPP) in women is defined as persistent, noncyclic pain in the pelvis that lasts more than six months. (Source) And one study estimates that the prevalence of CPP for women in reproductive ages is between 14% – 24%, and about 14% of women experience CPP at least once during their life. (Source)
It may take time to diagnose pelvic pain as there are many possible causes, and women can even have several causes happening at one time. CPP is sometimes caused by other physical diseases, or mental health disorders; or it can be a stand alone condition. (Source)
Often when searching for the cause of CPP, the organs located in the pelvis are examined. Reproductive organs like the uterus and the vagina, the urinary system, and digestive organs like the large intestine could all be involved.
With so many potential factors that can contribute to CPP, it’s important to educate yourself on the possible causes if you’re experiencing chronic pelvic pain. Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the better you can advocate for yourself.
Symptoms of Chronic Pelvic Pain
Your pelvic pain could be very localized to one specific spot, or it could be generalized to the entire region below the belly button and between the hips.
The Mayo Clinic describes some of the symptoms that relate to CPP:
- Severe and steady pain
- Pain that comes and goes (intermittent)
- Dull aching
- Sharp pains or cramping
- Pressure or heaviness deep within your pelvis
- Pain during intercourse
- Pain while having a bowel movement or urinating
- Pain when you sit for long periods of time
If that sounds like you, keep reading! Let’s go over some potential culprits.
This particular review of the connection between adhesions and pelvic pain found that the most common laparoscopic findings in patients with and without pelvic pain were endometriosis and adhesions.
Although it interestingly notes that whether there is a correlation between adhesions and pelvic pain isn’t clear.
UNC School of Medicine defines adhesions as “bands of scar tissue that can cause internal organs to be stuck together.” (Source) The common thought is that they may cause pain when they prevent normal movement of organs.
Pelvic adhesions are difficult to diagnose without a laparoscopic procedure. Unless they are extremely severe, it is hard to detect them either via pelvic exam or imaging such as ultrasounds.
Endometriosis occurs when endometrial tissue that normally grows inside the uterus grows outside the uterus, usually in the pelvis. The most common symptoms are chronic pain, infertility, chronic fatigue and pain during sex.
Approximately 1 in 10 women have endometriosis, and it can only be confirmed through a diagnostic laparoscopy. (Source)
Interstitial cystitis/painful bladder syndrome
Interstitial cystitis or painful bladder syndrome is a chronic, inflammatory disease that causes pain around the bladder and/or urethra and frequent and urgent urination.
IC/PBS occurs when these symptoms last six weeks or more without the presence of another infection.
Irritable bowel syndrome
IBS is an ongoing digestive condition that results in pain, bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea. While there isn’t conclusive evidence as to what causes IBS, we know it is triggered by stress, certain inflammatory foods, and environmental toxins.
Pelvic floor disorders
Pelvic floor disorders happen when the muscles and connective tissues that hold the pelvic organs in place weaken or are injured. This commonly happens during childbirth. Not only can pelvic floor disorders cause pain, but they can also cause functional problems like incontinence.
Uterine fibroids are a noncancerous growth of muscle cells in the wall of the uterus. They can be anywhere from invisible to the human eye to large enough to distort the uterus. These types of tumors can wreak their own kind of havoc.
For instance, they can cause heavy, irregular, painful periods (dysmenorrhea) in addition to the localized symptoms like back pain, frequent urination, and constipation.
Vulvodynia is a relatively common condition that causes pain in the vulva that lasts longer than three months without infection, especially during intercourse. The pain may range from sharp pain to burning to itching. (Source) Unfortunately, like most other conditions on this list, the cause is unknown.
A Couple of Ideas for You
I have been in the holistic health field for over 26 years now and I tend to blend different modalities together to help my clients release both emotional and physical pain. I find that gentle myofascial release work called Rolf Structural Integration or “Rolfing” can be amazing for helping women to release adhesions and structural compensations, especially after carrying a child. I am a true believer that organizing the fascial layers of the body can reduce and eliminate pain.
When I do Structural bodywork with clients, I also like to blend in technology to help relax the nervous system, increase blood flow in the capillaries and break down scar tissue and adhesions. I love starting a session using the Bemer mat to increase microcirculation of the capillaries and to relax the nervous system. Most people feel a deep, deep sense of relaxation, peace and rejuvenation.
In addition, many times I will also use a Frequency Specific Microcurrent to help melt the deep adhesions and scar tissue. These devices were originally invented in the 1920’s and use specific frequencies to target specific issues with the body. I have seen amazing results by combining hands-on work with technology.
If you struggle with a diagnosis of any of these, or have unexplained pelvic pain, please reach out so we can get to the bottom of it! We’ll dive deeper into how to manage pelvic pain in the next blog.