When it comes to pelvic pain, many women turn to the Internet or close friends for answers to their questions. Is this normal? Have you felt this before? What's the cause? Unfortunately, misconceptions about pelvic pain are prevalent, making it difficult to know whether advice found online or given by (well-intentioned) loved ones is correct or even safe.
To make sure you get the care—and relief—you deserve, we're dispelling some of the most common myths about pelvic pain.
Misconception: Most pelvic pain is related to your menstrual cycle, like period cramps, or a result of an issue with your reproductive organs.
Fact: While some women experience painful cramps during their period, known as dysmenorrhea, women with chronic pelvic pain deal with persistent pain throughout the month. For women with chronic pain, studies show that as few as 20 percent of the time the pain is related to a gynecologic issue.
So, if most chronic pelvic pain isn't period-related, what is the cause?
Misconception: Pelvic pain is most often caused by a single, easily identifiable problem.
Fact: Most chronic pelvic pain results from overlapping syndromes. In other words, there are likely multiple issues contributing to your pain. This means that many times women may seek care for one issue, like pain during sex, and not realize that their urinary incontinence and back pain also are related.
"They might not think that all their symptoms are connected, which means they might not share all of them with their provider," says Donna Hoffman, MD, a chronic pelvic pain specialist in Women's Health and Obstetrics and Gynecology at Gundersen Health System.
The misunderstanding can make it more difficult to pinpoint the cause/s of your pain and delay getting you the help you need.
Misconception: Kegel exercises are a great way to fix pelvic pain.
Fact: Kegels are touted as helpful for everything from strengthening the pelvic floor to improving sexual function and dozens of other things. But, while it's true that the exercise can be useful in a subset of instances, it's not an appropriate movement if you're experiencing any kind of pain in the pelvis, vagina, rectum, back or hips.
"Kegels aren't a general panacea for any problem in the pelvic area," Dr. Hoffman says.
Misconception: If you have pelvic pain, you probably have ovarian cysts.
Fact: Ovarian cysts, or fluid-filled sacs in or on the ovaries, may sound like a painful condition. However, most of the time ovarian cysts are painless. If you have an ovarian cyst and are suffering from chronic pain, the culprit is likely a combination of other things.
How to find relief
Given these misconceptions and more about pelvic pain, what can you do if you're experiencing pain? The best place to start is often by talking with your primary care provider, who can then refer you to a specialist if needed.
"Because of the nature of pelvic pain, there are complexities and layers that need to be evaluated," Dr. Hoffman says. "We want to look at all of the pieces to create a treatment plan that's unique to you."
Depending on your situation, that plan may include physical therapy, nutrition counseling and/or other care methods to improve your quality of life.
"Issues with the pelvis involve topics that are private and intimate and can be very difficult to talk about for many women," Dr. Hoffman says. "But significant help exists when people do reach out."
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