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Pelvic Pain: What Can It Mean?

The intricacies of women’s health are overlooked way too often, and pelvic pain is a worry that shouldn’t be ignored. Not only is it fairly common, but it can also hint toward underlying conditions.  

Finding the reason behind pelvic pain necessitates a deeper dive into its causes, implications, and options for management. For many women, pelvic pain is not just a passing irritation but a persistent, distressing feeling that can affect your daily life.  

From discomfort during intercourse to difficulty with urination and bowel movements, pelvic pain can manifest in a multitude of ways, affecting physical, emotional, and social well-being. It can also serve as a potential red flag for other health problems, ranging from benign to more serious.  

Let’s start by exploring the causes and consequences of pelvic pain. We encourage you to advocate for your health and seek medical intervention when needed, and you can only do that once you know what you’re looking for!  

There are many potential causes of pelvic pain in women

Pelvic pain in women can mean all kinds of things. Understanding the spectrum of factors that can contribute to pain in your pelvic region helps to determine an accurate diagnosis and an effective management or treatment plan.

So, what could yours be?

#1: Gynaecological

Pelvic pain in women often has gynaecological origins, stemming from various conditions affecting the reproductive organs. 

  • Menstrual Disorders: Conditions such as dysmenorrhea (painful periods) and endometriosis can cause pelvic pain, often exacerbated during menstruation. 
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID): An infection of the reproductive organs, typically caused by sexually transmitted bacteria, can lead to pelvic pain and discomfort. 
  • Ovarian Cysts: Fluid-filled sacs on the ovaries can cause sharp or dull pelvic pain, often accompanied by bloating and changes in menstrual patterns. 
  • Fibroids: Noncancerous growths in the uterus can cause pelvic pressure and discomfort, especially during menstruation or intercourse. 

#2: Reproductive system disorders 

Similarly, disorders affecting the reproductive system can cause pelvic pain, impacting menstrual health and reproductive function.  

  • Adenomyosis: A condition where the tissue that lines the uterus grows into the muscular wall. Adenomyosis can cause pelvic pain, heavy menstrual bleeding, and cramping. 
  • Pelvic Congestion Syndrome: Varicose veins in the pelvic region can cause chronic pelvic pain, especially in women who have had multiple pregnancies. 

#2: Urinary tract issues 

Pelvic pain can also be attributed to problems with the urinary tract, ranging from infections to chronic conditions affecting bladder health. 

  • Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): Infections of the bladder or urinary tract can cause pelvic pain, along with symptoms such as frequent urination and burning sensation during urination. 
  • Interstitial Cystitis: A chronic condition characterised by bladder pain and urinary urgency, interstitial cystitis can lead to pelvic discomfort and lower abdominal pain. 

#3: Digestive disorders 

Digestive disorders can contribute to pelvic pain through various mechanisms, impacting bowel function and abdominal comfort. 

  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): A functional gastrointestinal disorder, IBS can cause abdominal pain, bloating, and changes in bowel habits, contributing to pelvic discomfort. 
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD): Conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can cause inflammation and pain in the digestive tract, leading to pelvic pain. 

#4: Musculoskeletal issues 

Issues related to the musculoskeletal system can play a significant role in pelvic pain, affecting the stability and function of pelvic structures. 

  • Pelvic floor dysfunction: Weakness or dysfunction of the pelvic floor muscles can result in pelvic pain, often exacerbated by activities such as sitting or standing for prolonged periods. 
  • Pelvic joint instability: Pregnancy-related changes, arthritis, or injury can lead to instability in the pelvic joints, causing pain and discomfort in the pelvic region.  

#5: Always consider psychological factors 

Emotional factors can also intertwine with physical symptoms, contributing to the experience of pelvic pain in women.  

  • Stress and anxiety: Emotional factors can contribute to pelvic pain, exacerbating underlying conditions and triggering muscular tension in the pelvic region. Pre-existing anxiety disorders in particular can compound the effects of other health concerns, making pain management a delicate process to navigate.  

And not all pain is just one thing! Remember that pelvic pain can be multifaceted, with a combination of issues contributing to your discomfort.  

Seeing your doctor regularly to discuss your symptoms and come up with an appropriate treatment plan is essential for addressing pelvic pain effectively and improving your overall quality of life.  

Image of a doctor writing down a patients information at an appointment

Pelvic pain is different for everyone

Especially for women, pelvic pain can be debilitating. Some of the sensations to look out for, a few of the potential aggravating factors to avoid, and methods to alleviate your pain all need to be thought through carefully. When you suffer from any level of pain in your pelvic area, you also need to learn how to identify when it’s time to get professional help. 

What can pelvic pain feel like? 

Pelvic pain can feel different to everyone. For some, it’s a sharp, piercing sensation, and for others, it’s more of a persistent, dull discomfort.  

For women in particular, pain can include intermittent cramping similar to menstrual cramps, but it can sometimes be more intense and constant. There might be a feeling of pressure, like a heaviness that weighs on your body, or it might feel as though you’re being squeezed in the pelvic area.  

A burning sensation, such as intense heat or stinging, especially during urination, is also a common symptom. You might even feel stabbing pains, as if something sharp is poking or piercing you from the inside, and this sensation can sometimes radiate toward the lower back or thighs.  

Pelvic pain can come intermittently or persistently, often happening during particular times like when you’re urinating or sometimes at random times throughout the day. More constant, dull aches, on the other hand, can be relentless and ongoing.  

As soon as you’re able to recognise how your own pelvic pain makes itself known, it becomes so much easier to articulate your symptoms more effectively, which helps healthcare providers come up with a more effective and immediate treatment plan.  

Many methods can help manage and relieve pelvic pain 

Managing pelvic pain often involves a combination of self-care strategies and medical interventions. Here are some options to consider: 

  • Heat therapy: Applying a heating pad or taking warm baths can help relax pelvic muscles and ease discomfort.
  • Pelvic floor exercises: Strengthening and stretching exercises for the pelvic floor muscles, can improve muscle tone and alleviate pain. 
  • Medications: Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), can help with mild to moderate pelvic pain for the short term. Prescription medications may be necessary for more severe cases. 
  • Pelvic physiotherapy: Working with a pelvic health physiotherapist can provide targeted exercises and techniques to address pelvic pain and improve pelvic floor function. 
  • Relaxation techniques: Stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can help with managing pelvic pain by reducing muscle tension and promoting overall relaxation. This also helps to dispel psychological factors, such as generalised anxiety, which can intensify pelvic pain.  

Think about which of these management techniques might address your symptoms most directly and suit your lifestyle best. It usually helps to try one or two methods at a time to find what could work for your individual needs and preferences. 

What should I avoid when I have pelvic pain? 

While managing pelvic pain, you’ll need to steer clear of any triggers or factors that could make you feel even worse. You might want to avoid participating in strenuous activities such as heavy lifting, intense exercise, or anything else that puts strain on your pelvic muscles. 

Wearing tight-fitting clothing is another no-go, especially trousers that squeeze you around the waist and pelvic area. Spicy foods, caffeine, alcohol, and acidic foods have also been known to upset the bladder and cause issues with pelvic pain, so it’s better to limit them until you’re able to figure out the real problem.  

On top of that, sedentary behaviours, like sitting or standing without breaks, can contribute to pelvic pain by putting tension on your muscles and can make you feel stiff.  

When should I seek help for pelvic pain? 

Some cases of pelvic pain are manageable with self-care methods, but you need to be aware of the signs that necessitate medical attention.  

You should get immediate help from a healthcare provider if you experience severe or persistent pelvic pain that significantly disrupts your day. Accompanying symptoms such as fever, chills, or signs of infection alongside pelvic pain, should be examined as soon as possible. Changes in bowel or bladder function, including difficulty urinating, blood in the urine, or alterations in bowel habits, should also prompt a doctor’s visit.  

Pelvic pain during sexual activities could indicate a bigger medical problem in need of assessment and treatment. If you are pregnant or suspect you might be pregnant and have pelvic pain, get checked out right away.  

Should I be worried if my pelvis hurts? 

Pelvic pain, especially if it’s severe or persistent, isn’t something to disregard and hope it goes away.

Occasional discomfort might not be alarming and can easily be managed using some of the methods listed above, but consulting a healthcare professional is smart, if only in order to rule out some of the more serious causes. 

Is pelvic pain an emergency? 

Not all pelvic pain is an emergency, but sudden severe pain with anything like fever or heavy bleeding needs medical attention. Even just a quick check up can help you address a potentially harmful condition and get you feeling better a lot faster.  

Remember that everyone’s experience with pelvic pain is different, and finding effective strategies that work for you can take time and research—we know that’s easier said than done. But once you understand what you’re feeling and why, you’re halfway there.  

This article has been reviewed by our Kari Health Experts and Editorial Board to ensure accuracy and reliability of the information presented. However, please note that the content provided is for informational purposes only and should not replace advice from your medical professional.

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