Let's talk about this pain we don't talk about. Pain in the pelvic floor.
I hosted a workshop on the topic in February with pelvic floor specialist and physical therapist, Joanne O'Connor (HPRC). In the process of publicizing the event, we both discovered this topic was a no-no. Facebook wouldn't allow me to boost the event. Joanne had to go through several channels to even get it posted on her site.
We don't live in the dark ages, but most of us don't talk about this issue, except to our very closest friends or our doctor/therapist.
As a child, my mother's siblings and their spouses and children often gathered at my grandmother's house in South Georgia for the weekend. They were proficient in practical jokes and laughter was common, contagious, and sometimes hysterical. In the middle of the laughter, one aunt would invariably have to excuse herself. The other women would shake their heads, comment under their breath that she'd wet her pants again, and then keep laughing. I have no idea how that aunt really felt about the matter. I don't remember her ever complaining or explaining.
If you stub your toe, sprain your wrist, or get a crick in your neck, it's perfectly acceptable to make it a topic of conversation. Friends may share their stories of similar mishaps. But if you have pain "down there," most of us don't ever mention it. You can't see it or feel it like you would an ankle sprain.
Pelvic pain can be caused by a number of things--stress, stiff muscles, posture, hormonal changes, medications, bowel and bladder problems, and more. The pain, whatever the source, is produced by our body's alarm system when the brain perceives there is a threat and the area needs to be protected.
The nerves in your body send information to the spinal cord. The spinal cord passes the messages on to the brain. Imagine the messages going to the spinal cord to be like water filling up a measuring cup. There are lots of nerves in the pelvis. Messages from joints, muscles, ligaments, the bladder, the intestines, the skin, the genitals, and blood vessels continuously add their input, filling the cup little by little. Stress, anxiety, and fear add even more water to the cup. As long as the cup doesn't overflow, we can rock right along, everything is fine. But let those messages add up, let the cup overflow, and the info moves up the spinal cord to the brain. The brain weighs the input and decides the danger signals merit some attention. It creates pain, so that you will protect your pelvis.
Don't get me wrong. I am NOT saying it's in your head! It's not. It's in your body. It's just that the mechanism the body uses to create pain originates with the brain's response to those danger messages coming from the tissues. Read more about the body's alarm system here and here.
Emotional stresses, fear, anxiety, even the ongoing pain itself act like a flame beneath the measuring cup. They heat the water and it overflows faster.
What can you do to help with pelvic pain?
1. Understand how the alarm system in your body works and why it might be extra sensitive. Read more about that here and here. Remember that hurt does not equal harm and there are many things you can do to turn down the alarm system.
2. Manual therapy and soft tissue treatment by a trained and caring therapist (like Joanne!) can help.
3. Specific exercises to help loosen the joints and muscles of the low back, pelvis, hips and pelvic floor. This is where I come in. Yoga provides a unique combination of breathing, mindfulness, and stretching that can bevery effective in reducing pelvic pain.
4. Aerobic exercise. You don't need to run a marathon. Just go for a walk for 15-20 minutes. It calms those nerves.
5. Watch your sitting habits. Prolonged sitting will cause the muscles to get stiff, decreases the blood flow to the area, and wakes up the alarm system. Get up. Move around.
6. Practice deep, slow breathing. Again, yoga helps to find the coordination of the breathing diaphragm and the pelvic floor. This is one of the highlights of our upcoming workshop.
7. Sleep is important. Using a restorative yoga pose combined with deep breathing can help ease you into a good night's sleep.
8. Learn to manage your stress. Another good reason to come to yoga class!
Joanne and I will repeat our February workshop on learning to relax the pelvic floor this Sunday, April 22 from 4-6 pm. I'd love to have you. Whether you struggle with pelvic floor issues or simply want to remain healthy in this area, you will be glad you came.
You can register here.