At some point, many people will have experienced some form of pain in their pelvic and abdominal regions. Some estimates suggest up to 20% of the population in the United States will face some kind of pelvic pain in their lifetime. If you’ve wondered why we spend so much time covering the topic in our blogs, it’s because it is one of the most common symptoms that we see and treat! Today we take a look at your questions about pelvic pain treatment and how pelvic floor physical therapy can help!
Pelvic and Abdominal Pain Explained
In our experience, many painful symptoms that occur between the lower ribs and pelvic region may connect back to a patient’s pelvic health. Many of our patients benefit from pelvic floor physical therapy as part of their treatment for the conditions that cause pelvic pain.
Today we will look at some of the more common causes of pain in the pelvic region and how pelvic floor physical therapy may help ease these symptoms in some situations.
Pelvic Pain Symptoms & Causes
Since it can affect both men and women, abdominopelvic pain has many possible causes and be tricky (at first) to diagnose. We’ve found that pain felt in the pelvis, abdomen, hips, or lower back can often be connected to excess pelvic floor muscle tension.
The pain patients report feeling in the pelvic region can vary. It cand range from dull & crampy, to achy, burning, sharp, or stinging. Other symptoms associated with pain and tension in the pelvic and abdominal regions include:
- Frequent urination/ urinary urgency
- Incontinence (the inability to control loss of urine or stool)
- Pain during sex
- Tenderness or feelings of pressure in abdominopelvic muscles
- Difficulty walking, sitting, or lying down
The tricky part we mentioned above happens when it comes to determining the actual cause of the pain. It’s not always apparent whether the tension in the pelvic area is the cause-of or result of other conditions that result in pain. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, it could be a real ‘chicken-or-egg’ situation.
How Is Pelvic Pain Diagnosed?
Determining the exact cause (and best treatment options) for pain in the pelvis and the abdomen can be murky business. It’s always best to consult a trained pelvic therapist if you experience any painful symptoms that don’t clear up within a few days on their own.
In addition to discussing your symptoms and family history, the physical therapist may perform a physical exam during your initial consultation. They will check for any muscle tightness/ weakness, nerve damage, or joint issues. A good physical therapist while also be keeping in mind other relevant possible diagnoses (which may be unrelated and require further consultation).
Depending on the location and severity of your symptoms, the therapist will suggest a physical therapy plan that is specific to your condition.
What is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy?
We know that the term “physical therapy” brings to mind many different types of things. If your first thoughts were of uncomfortable stirrups and rigorous exercise regimens, you wouldn’t have been the first! There are many misconceptions about pelvic floor physical therapy out there which may, unfortunately, affect some patient’s willingness to seek pelvic pain treatment and begin recovery.
To put it simply, pelvic floor physical therapy is a broad approach to addressing issues with a patient’s joints, muscles, connective tissue, and nerves in the pelvic region. We certainly understand why some people may feel nervous about trying pelvic floor PT, as it can be tough to talk about issues with sexual, bladder, and bowel functions.
That’s why at Grace Physical Therapy, we approach each of our patient’s concerns with an open mind and commitment to making sure we provide the very best path to recovery. We help patients navigate their recovery with intention by fostering a trusting and compassionate environment. This allows patients to talk openly about their concerns and become knowledgeable of their condition.
How Can Pelvic Floor PT Help Treat Pelvic Pain?
You’ll recall we mentioned above how pelvic floor tension could either be the cause or result of the painful condition a patient is experiencing. Regardless of which symptom came first, the result is still a patient with overly tight pelvic floor muscles.
It shouldn’t take a pelvic specialist to have to tell you that’s not good, but since we’re here anyways – that’s definitely not good!
It doesn’t matter if the original cause of the pain is a condition unrelated to your pelvic floor. The extra tension could be contributing to the pain or intensifying the symptoms. Many patients experiencing abdominopelvic pain have found that pelvic floor PT can often ease (if not eliminate, over time) their pelvic pain symptoms.
Alongside other treatment options recommended by your physical therapist and doctor, pelvic floor physical therapy can help relax or strengthen the muscles in your pelvic area while promoting healing and pain reduction.
Pelvic Pain Treatment Options
By now, you should see that pelvic pain treatment options can be wide-ranging, depending on the exact issue. One thing we emphasize with all of our patients is education and understanding of their condition. Our commitment to a comfortable and trusting environment depends on maintaining a level of open communication and understanding. This knowledge empowers the patient to take their recovery confidently into their own hands with our guidance.
Depending on the source and location of your pelvic pain, treatment may include the following types of exercises;
Strengthening Muscles In And Around The Abdominopelvic Region
Strengthening the pelvic muscles and ligaments that support the abdominopelvic organs (liver, pancreas, kidneys, stomach, spleen, gallbladder, and most of the intestines) is crucial for many patients.
Your physical therapist may encourage muscle strengthening to help address urinary and bowel incontinence issues. When muscles supporting these organs are too contracted or weak, you begin to lose your ability to control these functions.
Relaxation And Stretching Of Tense Muscles
Relaxing and stretching these muscles when they are tense can promote better overall pelvic health and function.
Some muscle tension is necessary for the organs to work correctly. However, overly-tense pelvic floor muscles can cause constipation or incontinence and restrict nerve function and blood flow in the area. By engaging in exercises to relax and lengthen these muscles, you decrease your risk for pelvic pain and dysfunction.
Coordination training for the pelvic floor muscles and anatomical core system helps to ensure that each muscle group is doing an appropriate amount of work. Learning to coordinate the pelvic floor muscles can be challenging. It is important to ensure that these muscles work well together to keep us functional. It is also important to ensure that they work with the abdominal muscles, back muscles, and diaphragm. With guidance from a pelvic therapist, coordination training can take on a variety of forms. It really depends on an individual’s needs and goals. Often, coordination training is combined with functional activities (like going from sitting to standing, lifting an object) or with exercise. This natural movement helps ensure that the muscles contract and relax appropriately.
Bio-Feedback Testing & Training
Bio-feedback muscle retraining is a handy method for determining which of your pelvic muscles are experiencing tightness or weakness. Using external body sensors that record muscle contractions, the therapist and patient can get a clear picture of problem areas.
One crucial aspect of bio-feedback training is that it allows the patient to track their efforts in real-time. It allows them to see if their exercises are being performed correctly and targeting the correct muscles. Bio-feedback training helps the physical therapist to keep an eye on how effectively the treatment is going over time.
Electrical stimulation is a unique form of pelvic pain treatment explicitly aimed at treating urinary urgency and frequency issues. It works by sending low-grade (and painless!) electrical signals to the pelvic floor. These signals stimulate the muscle to contract repeatedly. Over time this will begin to strengthen the targeted muscle from the exercise.
Electrical stimulation is beneficial for patients entering therapy with severely weakened pelvic floor or anal sphincter muscles.
Pelvic Pain Treatment At Grace Physical Therapy
Although pelvic and abdominal pain can be complicated, our team at Grace Physical Therapy & Pelvic Health is here to help! We know trying to diagnose the source of your pain can be confusing and discouraging at times. That’s why we commit to working with you to understand your condition and help you along the path to recovery.
If you have been experiencing pelvic or abdominal pain that won’t go away, schedule a consultation today. We have in-person appointment options available at our three locations Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill. We have telehealth consultation options available as well!
Until Next Time,
The Grace PT Team