Overcoming Pelvic Pain with a Mind-Body Approach
By Lindsay Dorka
Pelvic Floor Therapist & Pelvic Pain Coach
If you’re struggling with chronic pelvic pain, you’re not alone! Millions of people are diagnosed with chronic pelvic pain every year. Many of these people have found minimal relief or have to engage in consistent practices to “keep their pain at bay” – things like stretching, muscle release, chiropractic care, massages, medication or supplement use, injections, and more.
But what if I told you that you don’t have to just manage your chronic pelvic pain? You can actually overcome it!
A mind-body process is often the missing piece when it comes to pain recovery. Our brains have the ability to change, which is something called neuroplasticity. So, working to rewire your brain can actually help you change, and eventually overcome, your pain.
What is pain?
By definition, it is an unpleasant experience that is both sensory and emotional.
Pain is never just a body problem, and it always involves the brain.
Think of pain as an alarm signal. It’s alerting you to threats toward your safety and well-being.
With a majority of chronic pelvic pain cases, these threats are not actually physical. They are stemming from nervous system dysregulation, emotions, social factors, mindset and beliefs, and fear of the pain itself.
This is why a lot of physical only approaches typically used in pain management programs do not work.
Another important thing to understand is this: mind-body pain does not mean the pain is “all in your head”. That statement implies that your pain isn’t real. Your pain is absolutely real, the cause of it just likely isn’t what you think it is or what you’ve been told.
So how do you know if the pain you’ve been dealing with could benefit from a mind-body approach?
Here are some questions to think about. If you answer yes to any of them you could definitely benefit!
- Did your pain start without a physical injury? Or has your pain persisted long after the typical time an injury takes to heal?
- Has your pain spread over time to other areas of the body?
- Does your pain have the quality of tingling, electric, burning, numb, hot or cold?
- Does your pain intensity vary based on the time of day?
- Does your pain occur after but not during activity or exercise?
- Do you have more pain if you think about it?
- Does your pain arise when your stress is increased?
- Does your pain get better or stop when you’re engaged in joyful or distracting activities?
- Does your pain improve or go away after some kind of therapy such as massage, acupuncture, dry needling, chiropractic care, etc?
- Is your pain triggered by things that are not related to the actual symptom such as smells, sounds, foods, drinks, menstrual cycle, changes in the weather?
- Do you get pain simply if you imagine a triggering activity?
- Do you feel pain with light touch to the area?
Another good indicator is to take the Central Sensitization Inventory (part A). Those with chronic pain tend to have higher scores which signal increased nervous system sensitivity.
Finally, there are some common behaviors and personality traits of individuals with mind-body related pain and they include:
- Constant worrying
- Feeling more obligations
- Putting others needs before your own
- Suppressing your more challenging emotions (shame, grief, anger, etc.)
In the pelvic health world (and medical world in general), many of the following are often indicated as the cause for your pain but are in fact variations of normal:
- Muscle tension
- Trigger points
- Body asymmetries
- Most scoliosis
- Muscle inhibition
- Muscle weakness
- Myofascial restrictions
- Movement variations
- Nerve tension
A lot of these can actually be results of your pain and how your nervous system has adapted. This is why continuing to treat these things will not necessarily lead to a cure for your pain but may only allow you to manage it (if it helps at all).
In Power Over Pelvic Pain, my 1:1 coaching program, I utilize a 6-step process using mind-body techniques that are scientifically proven to help you overcome your pain.
The programs are 100% customized to your needs with virtual face to face time with me as well as activities to work on daily to help with:
- Brain retraining to shift thoughts and behaviors from ones that promote pain to ones that will help you be pain free
- Nervous system regulation
- Graded exposure to triggering activities done in a way that feels safe, controlled, and comfortable
What type of pelvic pain does this program work for?
- Painful sex
- Bladder pain/interstitial cystitis
- Tailbone pain
- Pudendal neuralgia
- Pubic bone pain
- SI joint pain
- Low back pain
- Abdominal pain
- Bowel pain/rectal pain
This program helps to rewire your brain and nervous system so that you have power over your pelvic pain instead of your pain having power over you.
Lindsay Dorka is an occupational therapist who specializes in treating women’s pelvic floor dysfunction. She holds an undergraduate degree in exercise science and a Master’s of Occupational Therapy from Tufts University.