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What’s The Deal With Pelvic Pain?

by | Sep 7, 2022 | Women's Health

Chronic Pelvic Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Relief

Let’s get one thing straight: the pelvis is an anatomical powerhouse. Located at the lower end of the torso, between the abdomen and legs, the pelvis provides a safe and supported space for many internal organs and structures, including the intestines, bladder and urinary structures, reproductive organs, blood vessels, and nerves.

When you consider all the important functions constantly emerging from the pelvic area, you begin to understand the potential for pelvic pain to arise. And, if you’re one of the 14% to 32% of women of reproductive age living with pelvic pain, you may agree there’s no bigger disappointment to your day than the onset of debilitating symptoms related to the pelvic area.

Passive recovery

Between 13% and 32% of women living with pelvic pain report pain so severe that it causes them to miss work.

Since pelvic pain appears to be a disruptive force in the lives of many women around the world, it’s important to know what pelvic pain is, what causes pelvic pain, and ways to treat pelvic pain, whether that involves medical care or at-home remedies for pelvic pain management.

What is pelvic pain?

Pelvic pain is pain experienced in the lower part of the abdomen and pelvis. Symptoms may emanate from the reproductive system, urinary system, digestive system, muscles, and ligaments in the pelvis.

Pelvic pain in women is more common than in men, and depending on the source, pelvic pain can be dull or sharp; constant or intermittent; and mild, moderate, or severe. Pelvic pain can also radiate to other parts of the body, such as the back, buttocks, or thighs, and be accompanied by abdominal pain.

Types of pelvic pain

Acute pelvic pain

Acute pelvic pain refers to pain that occurs suddenly, sharply, and briefly. Acute pelvic pain is generally short term, lasting a few days to a few weeks.

Chronic pelvic pain

Chronic pelvic pain is the term for constant or intermittent pelvic pain occurring for six months or more.

Persistent pelvic pain is seen in an estimated 4% to 16% of women, and can be debilitating, especially when accompanied by other health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), urinary tract infection (UTI), or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

Symptoms of pelvic pain

Pelvic pain may be experienced alongside other symptoms, including:

  • Vaginal bleeding, spotting or discharge

  • Menstrual pain or menstrual cramps

  • Abdominal pain

  • Painful urination

  • Bloating or gas

  • Constipation or diarrhoea

  • Painful sex (find out other reasons why you may feel pain during sex)

  • Rectal bleeding (bleeding when you pass a bowel movement)

  • Fever or chills

  • Pain in the vulva or groin areas

Causes of pelvic pain

There are multiple causes of pelvic pain, and often they can be related to an underlying problem.

Causes of pelvic pain for women and men include:

  • Appendicitis

  • Bladder problems, such as interstitial cystitis

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

  • Intestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis

  • Kidney infection or kidney stones

  • Pelvis disorders, such as tightness of pelvic muscles, and pelvic muscle spasms

  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

  • Nerve conditions, such as pinched nerves of the spine

  • Pain related to stress or past trauma

  • Broken or fractured pelvic bones

  • Infection of pelvic bone

Possible causes of pelvic pain exclusively for people assigned female at birth include:

  • Menstrual disorders and painful periods

  • Menstrual cramps (here’s everything you need to know about painful period cramps)

  • Pregnancy, particularly during early pregnancy as the foetus grows

  • Ectopic pregnancy, when a fertilised egg implants outside of the uterus, most commonly in one of the fallopian tubes

  • Painful ovulation (when fluid released by the ovary enters the pelvis and abdominal cavity, causing irritation)

  • Miscarriage

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection of a woman’s reproductive organs, usually caused by sexually transmitted infections

  • Endometriosis

  • Ovarian disorders or ovarian cysts

  • Uterine fibroids, a common type of non-cancerous tumour that grows in and on the uterus

  • Types of cancer, including cervical, uterine, and ovarian

Determining what’s causing pelvic pain will usually involve the help of a trusted medical care team. Until the cause of pelvic pain is known, suitable treatment cannot be prescribed or administered.

How is pelvic pain diagnosed?

For an accurate diagnosis, it’s necessary to consult with your doctor for a full assessment of your symptoms and medical history, a physical exam, and a pelvic exam.

Common diagnostic tools include:

  • Urine tests

  • Blood tests

  • Stool sampling

  • Pregnancy tests

  • STI testing

  • Abdominal (and pelvic X-rays

  • Ultrasound (a test that provides images of internal organs)

  • CT scans of the pelvic and abdominal areas (imaging tests to identify any abnormal growths)

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

  • Hysteroscopy (examination of the uterus)

  • Laparoscopy (examination of the pelvis and abdomen)

  • Lower endoscopy (examination of the rectum and colon)

Passive recovery

Your healthcare provider may ask questions, such as: Where and when does the pelvic pain occur? How long does the pain last? Does the pain coincide with your menstrual cycle, urination, or sexual activity? What does the pain feel like?

It’s important to answer as truthfully and in as much detail as you feel comfortable to do so.

How is pelvic pain diagnosed?

The treatment of pelvic pain depends on the cause, severity of pain, and frequency of pain.

Various treatments available for pelvic pain include:

Medication

Pelvic pain relief can occur with the use of certain drugs, including antibiotic or anti-inflammatory medications.

Oral contraceptives

In cases of endometriosis associated pelvic pain, combined oral contraceptive pills can be an effective treatment option.

Surgery

If a problem with one of the pelvic organs is the cause of chronic pain, the best treatment option could involve surgery or other medical procedures, provided less invasive forms of treatment have been ruled out.

Physical therapy

A healthcare provider may recommend physical therapy, such as stretching exercises, yoga, massage, and other relaxation techniques, to ease pelvic pain in some cases.

Passive recovery

Counselling

In cases where a physical cause has been ruled out, a doctor may recommend working with a trained counsellor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Living with persistent pelvic pain can be stressful and exhausting, both mentally and physically. Studies have shown that working with a trained specialist can be beneficial for many women.

In many cases, a healthcare professional may recommend multiple treatments to be used in combination as part of an effective pelvic pain management plan.

How to treat pelvic pain at home

If you suffer from pelvic pain, there are a few things you can do to relieve the pain and discomfort at home for a better quality of life, including:

Over-the-counter pain relievers

Got a pain in your pelvic bone that just won’t go away? Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can help to alleviate pain until you reach the nearest doctor.

Exercise

Love it, or hate it, there’s no denying the benefits of exercise (aka physical therapy). Moving your body increases blood flow, which can help to relieve pain in the pelvic region.

Heat

How is pelvic pain treated when it arrives with no warning or time to prepare with a proper pain management plan? With heat, of course! Turns out, the same heat application responsible for maintaining the pre-menstrual will to live, can also relieve pelvic pain.

So, unashamedly park yourself on the sofa and place a heat pack, heating pad, or warm compress over the area. Alternatively, a hot bath will provide similar benefits.

Supplements

Pelvic pain can stem from multiple causes, one of which is a vitamin or mineral deficiency. If that’s the case, supplements could be your new best friend. Speak with your healthcare provider about supplements that may help to relieve your pelvic pain.

Relaxation techniques

Are you internal organs causing grief in the form of pelvic pain symptoms? Relaxation techniques, such as yoga, mindfulness, and meditation, can help minimise stress and tension. So, go on, get the high frequency sound waves pumping and surrender to the power of relaxation for pelvic pain relief.

Can pelvic pain be prevented?

Whether it’s acute pain or chronic pain, there are many diseases and conditions that can cause pelvic pain. So, it can be difficult to prevent pelvic pain from developing, however, your risk of pelvic pain may be reduced by implementing these simple lifestyle habits:

Get physical

Making an effort to exercise not only helps you to look good in a swimsuit, but it also keeps your joints and muscles healthy.

When looking for an exercise regime, remember that a good exercise regime is one that is sustainable for you. If high intensity circuit training is a struggle, scale it back a little. Walking 10,000 daily steps is a completely underrated form of physical activity – start there and feel the difference.

Consume more fibre

It’s well known that fibre keeps us regular. It also helps to relieve pelvic pain, particularly if diverticulitis is the cause.

Don’t overuse your pelvic muscles

When you overuse something, it’s bound to get tired. It’s the same theory for your pelvic muscles. So, limit any activities that involve standing or walking for long periods of time.

Stretch your muscles

Another underrated activity that delivers a wealth of health benefits is stretching to relieve pelvic pain, especially before and after exercising.

Maintain your health checks

Attending routine health checks can help your doctor to identify health issues early on before they have a chance to worsen. So, bite the bullet and book that annual physical exam, already!

Practice pelvic floor exercises

Kegels are a series of pelvic floor exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor. They’re particularly great if you want to protect those reproductive organs housed within the pelvic bone.

We’re here to help

Dealing with pelvic floor issues or other discomfort downstairs? Consult with a hub.health doctor today!

Sources

Grace, Victoria M, and Krina T Zondervan. “Chronic pelvic pain in New Zealand: prevalence, pain severity, diagnoses and use of the health services.” Australian and New Zealand journal of public health vol. 28,4 (2004): 369-75. doi:10.1111/j.1467-842x.2004.tb00446.x

Zondervan, K T et al. “Prevalence and incidence of chronic pelvic pain in primary care: evidence from a national general practice database.” British journal of obstetrics and gynaecology vol. 106,11 (1999): 1149-55. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0528.1999.tb08140.x

Mathias, S D et al. “Chronic pelvic pain: prevalence, health-related quality of life, and economic correlates.” Obstetrics and gynecology vol. 87,3 (1996): 321-7. doi:10.1016/0029-7844(95)00458-0

Felix Wong, Wu Shun, and Chi Eung Danforn Lim. “Hormonal treatment for endometriosis associated pelvic pain.” Iranian journal of reproductive medicine vol. 9,3 (2011): 163-70.

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