You will know by now that pelvic pain is recognised as a particularly difficult problem to deal with. Very often there is a fruitless search for infection or other objective disease.
The modern approach to resolving pelvic pain must take into account:
- resolving ‘holding’ and tension in the muscles and fascias of the pelvis, legs, abdomen and breathing system. Specialist physiotherapy might be required (find Maria Elliot). Regular exercise conditions all systems in the body – especially the nervous system, muscular and cardiovascular system.
- Stress and trauma; evidence strongly suggests that those who suffer from persistent pain – like pelvic pain – often have experienced overwhelming emotional events or trauma in their early years. Those who feel they do not fall into this category may have been experiencing considerable stress prior to the onset of their pelvic pain.
Here’s the crux; without paying attention to the stressed or traumatised nervous system, and unresolved emotional pain, it can be extremely difficult to heal from pelvic pain of all kinds.
By resolving old trauma held in the body, and allowing any habitual persistent stress response to go into relaxation, healing is much more likely.
Read on only if you need details of why dealing with emotion is the key….
The Relevance of Emotion
The outcome of stressful events acn result in a nervous system with decreased resilience – either as a whole or in some part.
The way it works is this: each experience in life is emotionally charged – life doesn’t just involve thought. Everything you hear, smell, taste, look at and feel is detected by the instinctive, animal part of your nervous system, looking out to enhance your well-being and keep you safe.
So whatever you sense, in life, various shades of emotion are generated. Emotions are designed to alter your behaviour ‘as necessary’. Emotions are innate and programmed in to the system. New ones are learned depending on our early experiences.
Of course, the things you think about will also cause emotional reactions. If there have been traumatic events in your past, thoughts can seem endlessly noisy, often generating anxiety.
Can You Handle It?
Here’s the crux; if you can handle an emotion – that is, if you can tolerate the body-feeling of it – make sense of it and express what needs to be expressed, you will grow in strength, resilience, take the rough with the smooth and enjoy what life throws at you.
But if the emotion is unbearable, that is, if you are overwhelmed, then you will produce an overactive stress response, and disconnect from the experience in order that you can function. This especially happens in childhood. Kids’ nervous systems cannot tolerate the fear and despair of inadequate or rough parenting. They grow up tending to be passive or ‘freeze’ under pressure.
The upshot of this is that the trauma – or traumatic period – cannot be put in the usual memory banks; there’s too much unresolved emotional charge for this. So the nervous system ‘binds’ the excess charge in some part of the body – often the organs and muscles of the pelvis. Unconscious clenching of the pelvic muscles and pelvic pain can result.
Migraine is the result of the high charge in the nerves that control the cerebral blood vessels. Irritable bowel syndrome is the same thing happening in the guts. And there are other examples.
So in all these three common ‘stress-related’ conditions, there is an abnormally high amount of nervous activity ‘held’ in certain tissues – in order to avoid the emotion related to stressful or traumatic events.
Of course, this is not the whole story. The nervous system has usually stored energy in other systems first; shoulder girdle and neck muscles are the favourite. We all want our shoulders massaged when we’re stressed. This is because these are natural ‘bracer’ muscles. But high nervous charge can turn up in any muscle system. The result is tense, tight, fatigued and sore muscles. “Muscle tension protects you from emotional pain” – is one cliché.
If this situation has gone on long enough, the tension can be unconscious. In fact, it very often is.
So a lot of charge has already been ‘soaked up’ by ‘ordinary’ muscle systems well before pelvic pain turns up. What tips the balance can be anything from an episode of cystitis to childbirth to a muscle strain in the hip to the break up of a relationship; anything that generates even more emotional nervous energy.
The whole body and its nervous system are trying to contain and manage too much nervous energy – and it was already struggling to do this (although that struggle may have gone unnoticed).
So the pelvic tissues can become a ‘dumping ground’ for excessive nervous system charge – and it becomes habitual; the nervous system becomes addicted to doing it because this is how it ‘manages’ the situation.
So we have two issues:
- an unconscious tendency to generate too much nervous charge
- over-accumulation of charge in certain areas of the body (shoulder muscles, bladder neck, vulva, etc).
Now this is an over-simplification, but a good enough map to point to what needs to be done:
- learn how to reduce and soothe the charge.
- learn how to release it and disperse it (spread it out) from where it has become habitually held.
- practice tolerating the re-emergence of emotion that occurs when the tissues ‘holding’ the charge are taught to let go. This is the tricky bit. Tricky, but do-able; adults who know what’s happening can tolerate emotions and feelings which, as children, they could not.
We will work on these three processes using a blend of osteopathic bodywork, Somatic Experiencing, mindfulness, and attention to movement and breathing.
The whole process requires, in effect, re-wiring some aspects of the nervous system. Your system is capable of great resilience, but it may need gentle practice at this new process. It is a long-term project, and potentially exciting and transformative.
It’s not as complicated as it sounds – all the techniques mentioned above blend in with one another. It does take effort and you will be guided along the way.
Remember, if getting rid of chronic pain was merely a question of having something ‘done’ to you, you wouldn’t be reading this now. To cure chronic pain you have to actively engage with it and learn why it’s there.
If you are willing to do this and truly ‘honour yourself’ the results will be remarkable.