Pelvic pain is common in women, and though the specific definitions of chronic pelvic pain vary, pelvic pain is often referred to as chronic if it has lasted at least 3 months.1 Unfortunately, there is a lot about pelvic pain, and even overall pelvic health, that is not well understood, even by doctors and scientists. Due to our lack of knowledge and the sensitivities people often feel around the experience of pelvic pain, several misconceptions about pelvic health have developed. Here are 5 common myths about pelvic pain and overall pelvic health.
1. Pelvic pain is probably in your head, and with time, it will go away on its own.
Like with other forms of chronic pain, the underlying reasons for pelvic pain can be difficult for healthcare providers to determine.2 This struggle to diagnose a medical condition can lead providers to assume that perhaps the pain is not treatable. With no other effective tools, healthcare providers have in the past sometimes leaned toward psychological treatments for pelvic pain.
Luckily, research has advanced our understanding of pelvic pain. It is now known, for instance, that endometriosis accounts for more than half of the cases of chronic pelvic pain.3 As the realities of pelvic pain have become clearer, the psychological approach to addressing pelvic pain has largely been abandoned.2 However, while the experience of pelvic pain is likely not in your head, boosting your general well-being, including your mental health, can help to mitigate that pain.4
The other half of this myth is that the pain is only temporary, and will get better, or go away as time passes. This isn’t a great way to look at health issues because, often, the earlier you find and treat a real issue in your body, the greater chances that there will be less damaged caused by the issue that is occurring.
2. Menstruation normally causes pain.
Many people experience pelvic pain during menstruation or during their period, but this type of pain is not normal.5 Pain that occurs between periods could be a sign of underlying disease. Sometimes pain that comes and goes like this is ignored, but just because the pain is not always there does not mean that there is not an effective option to avoid that pain or to treat it when it does occur.
It is not uncommon for pain to occur during menstruation in patients who have endometriosis.6 In the case of endometriosis, bleeding often also occurs between periods. Endometriosis isn’t the only potential cause of pain during menstruation either, so it’s important to have a healthcare professional work with you to find the underlying cause. Just because you are strong enough to withstand the monthly suffering, doesn’t mean that you have to. You deserve to live as pain-free a life as possible.
3. Pain during sex is normal.
Though pain during both vaginal and anal intercourse is common, it can be a sign of a condition and can therefore be treated.7–9 Research has shown that women who experience chronic pain during intercourse also experience more physical – as well as emotional – pain during pelvic examinations.8 It is therefore possible that women who suffer from painful intercourse avoid physical examinations, but these evaluations are an important part of women’s reproductive health.
If you are experiencing pain during sexual intercourse, know that you are not alone, and know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Sex is a natural part of life, the pain associated with it isn’t. It’s important to find the support that you need to move past this pain, as it can impact your emotions, your body, and your outlook towards sex in general.
4. The more pain you’re in, the worse your condition.
It is intuitive to think that if you are experiencing severe pain, there may be something severely wrong. However, the level of pelvic pain does not always correlate with the likelihood or severity of disease. In other words, more severe disease can occur with few or no symptoms, whereas significant pain may occur even in cases where disease is mild or nonexistent. Research has shown, for instance, that the level of pain experienced by patients with endometriosis is not indicative of how severe their endometriosis is.1,5 Pelvic pain can feel scary, especially if there is any trauma associated with the pelvic region, emotional, physical or otherwise. It’s important to find your way towards the root cause of your suffering to avoid continued physical pain, but also to avoid or heal from the emotional pain that often accompanies pelvic pain.
5. Pelvic pain only affects older women.
The myth that pelvic pain only affects older women is exactly that, a myth. Women of childbearing age typically experience pelvic pain, which can appear even in younger girls. The myth that pelvic pain only affects older women can hurt younger women who don’t look at their pain seriously because they don’t understand that they could be experiencing issues that are only attributed to older women. The more people talk about and educate others on the importance of caring for overall pelvic health, and listening to their bodies pain signals, regardless of age, the better their chances of reducing or eliminating the pain and improving their overall quality of life.
What is true about pelvic pain?
Pelvic pain is common, but it is often a sign of some sort of underlying pathology.3,6 It can occur for gynecological reasons or non-gynecological reasons, and distinguishing between these causes of pelvic pain is important for diagnosis and treatment.10
Depending on the nature of pelvic pain, there may be several options for how to best prevent or treat the pain. Given that pain is a major factor in quality of life in those with pelvic conditions seeking help to determine how best to overcome this pain is important for physical and psychological health.11 Women who are experiencing pelvic pain don’t have to continue suffering in silence. It’s completely ok, and always important to have unnecessary pain checked out by a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable in overall pelvic health.
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