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Pelvic Pain

Clearing the Confusion around Chronic Pelvic Pain

Ever feel confused about your pelvic pain and why it’s still here?
Chronic pelvic pain notoriously behaves as a ‘’vicious cycle’’, which often makes it hang around long after you feel like you should be ‘’fixed’’. Once you understand this vicious cycle – and which bits of it are contributing most to your pain – you have a strategy for resolving it once and for all.

Think of your chronic pelvic pain like a fire that keeps burning on and on. It keeps picking up the dry leaves, twigs and paper that fly by. These act as fuel to keep the fire going. As long as there is fuel, the fire won’t go out, even though the match that lit it is long burnt out.

It doesn’t matter what the initial match is that lit the fire for you. It might have been a nasty episode of thrush that was hard to beat. It might have been a bout of urinary tract infections with repeat antibiotics. It might have been a fall on your bottom on the ice-skating rink, a fall on your crotch onto a tree branch or bike seat, a childbirth tear, scarring from gynaecological surgery, one too many IVF rounds, or a painful medical procedure. It might even have been a combination of the above! Regardless of how it started, once the acute inflammation has resolved, the ‘’imprint’’ of the episode remains – in the nerves, muscles and organs in the pelvis. It’s like a ‘’memory’’ of what has gone before. Your muscles in the pelvis tense up, trying to protect you from future trauma – but sometimes it is exactly this muscle tension that promotes the problem. The muscle tension restricts your circulation and alters the functions within your pelvis. It might pull your pelvic joints out of kilter. Once your joints are a bit out of whack, your muscles have to work differently to compensate, leading to more muscle tension and spasm. Sex hurts, so you unconsciously tense the muscles even more, and you don’t produce good lubrication. Have you spotted the ‘’vicious cycle’’?

Then let’s say you’re a bit ‘’run-down’’ nutritionally. You haven’t been eating as well as you could. Or, you are eating ok, but stress is making you ‘’use up’’ your nutrients faster and need more of them than you’re getting. Or, you are on medication that decreases certain nutrients in the body, like the Pill. Let’s take magnesium, for example – when you are low, your muscles have difficulty relaxing. It keeps the vicious cycle of muscle tension going, which increases your pelvic pain. Another example: zinc. When your zinc levels are low, your body doesn’t keep or build muscle well. So the muscle that you DO have has to work too hard, creating tension and spasm in the pelvis. Low zinc and iron predisposes to vaginal infections, which also adds ‘’fuel to the fire’’.
Then, the longer you have the pain, the more your brain adapts to the pain. It starts to see the pain as a normal part of you.  Even when your body is recovering, the brain can lag behind. As smart as it is, it can THINK there is still a big problem, even when the problem is resolving! This doesn’t mean the pain is ‘’in your head’’ or ‘’psychological’’. It is very real – but because of the very real changes that take place in your brain with chronic pain, you often need to work on the brain via ‘’brain exercises’’ to fully resolve the pain.

This ‘’vicious cycle’’ effect has both pros and cons. A pro is that we can work on any factor within the pain cycle to potentially make improvements in the pain. A con is that we may have to work on all at once, over a period of time, because we don’t always know which will be the ‘’key’’ to unlocking your pelvic health. Working with a health professional who has expertise in ‘’breaking the cycle’’ of chronic pelvic pain is important. If you can’t get to such a professional, there are some ‘’do-it-yourself’’ activities that can get you started on ‘’breaking the cycle’’ of pelvic pain. These activities include specific muscle stretches, special ‘’diaphragmatic breathing’’ exercises and pelvic relaxation techniques. There is an audio CD available that provides exactly this, the Free Your Pelvis CD.
For more information, and to receive a free newsletter which includes information and articles relevant to pelvic pain, please e-mail Alyssa Tait, Physiotherapist/Nutritionist/Naturopath at equilib@bigpond.net.au.

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