Category Archives: Chronic pelvic pain



VulvodyniaVulvodynia is a painful condition, often exquisitely so, located in the vulva, which is the skin surrounding the vagina. Usually unexplained, this troubling condition can arise seemingly from nowhere, interfere with intimate relations and hence attempts to conceive. Vulvodynia is also known as a functional pain syndrome–these are painful problems that lack a pathology of note that explains the extent of the pain and include irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, TMJ dysfunction, migraine and pelvic pain. Functional pain syndromes are often concurrent with hypermobility, anxiety and depression, a further common character trait being perfectionism and a tendency for the person to be hard on themselves thereby creating a cycle of chronic stress.

The pain of vulvodynia is often very localised and triggered by direct contact. Naturally this occurs during sex and touch, but sometimes sitting position can bring on the pain. As with any sensitisation, there is a primary location of pain but there can also be a secondary area surrounding that is due to central nervous system (and other systems) involvement. Suspected vulvodynia or other pains in the pelvis should be assessed and examined by a gynaecologist as a first step before beginning treatment, and by a consultant who knows and understands both the condition and the impact — Miss Deborah Boyle at 132 Harley Street.

With vulvodynia often being part of an overall picture of sensitivity, it means that there is a common biological adaptation that is upstream of the range of seemingly different conditions (the functional pain syndromes). As soon as the individual understands that pain is not an accurate indicator if tissue damage, but rather a reflection of the perceived threat and prioritisation by the body-person, there is a realisation that the pain can change. Pain can change because perceptions can change as we take on board new information and consequently think and act differently, creating new habits. The new habits set the conditions for on-going and sustained change that includes overcoming pain.

We have limited attention and hence can only be aware of certain amount of stimuli in any given moment. If pain is consuming much or all of your attention and consciousness, then this is all that is happening in that moment, with all other possible experiences being disregarded–it is a matter of prioritisation. When the perception of threat is reduced by a constructive thought or action, the pain moves out of our attention span and we become aware of other thoughts, feelings and experiences. How we respond to pain is unique and learned through our lifetime right up until that point; all those bumps and bruises as a child, how our parents reacted, more serious injuries or illnesses and the messages we received from doctors, teachers and other ‘big people’, then through adult life, moulding our beliefs about ourselves, the world, health and pain each time we feel it. The sum of all this activity, most of which we are unaware of, sets up how you respond to the next ache, pain or injury, blended of course with genetics. It seems that some people are genetically set up to be more inflammatory, meaning that responses to injury are potentially more vigorous and go on for longer. Understanding this means that the right messages and treatment can be given, thereby appropriately addressing the injury or pain. One of the big problems is that this does not happen, and the explanations are structural and based upon the body tissues. This ignores the fact that we have body systems that protect and these systems have sampling mechanisms in the tissues and organs but largely exist elsewhere–e.g./ nervous system, autonomic nervous system, endocrine system, sensorimotor system, immune system. We have to go upstream as well as improve the health and mobility of the local tissues.

Going upstream is vital in overcoming vulvodynia, and this is where the Pain Coach Programme works–this is my part of the treatment programme. You may also choose to work with a women’s health physiotherapist who will work more locally. So what is the Pain Coach Programme?

The Pain Coach Programme is a a blend of the latest neuroscience of pain with a strengths based coaching approach to success. Understanding your pain and that you have the biology and strengths to overcome your pain is a vital start point. You have been successful in the past using these strengths, and you can do so again by drawing on these characteristics and using them to develop your health in terms of how you think and act. Overcoming pain is all about resuming a meaningful life, engaging with activities and people as you want to, in a way that allows you to flourish. The Pain Coach Programme provides you with the knowledge and skills that you need to in effect become your own coach, moment to moment making clear decisions that take you towards your vision of how you want to live. This alongside treatment and specific training to develop normal movement and a healthy body-mind. The skills you learn also help you to fully engage in life, whether this be at home, at work or at play.

If you suffer vulvodynia or other painful problems, call us now to start your programme: 07518 445493


Top 5 back pain myths

Welcome to my top 5 back pain myths. What are these you may ask?

Around pain and in particular back pain, there are many phrases and explanations used to try to educate the patient. These have been handed down through the generations and can appear to be logical. Fortunately, the science has moved on and we know better.

Here are 5 common beliefs that have been challenged:

**I have not included the myths of core stability because this has been well documented previously. Pulling in your abs does not solve the complexity of back pain, especially chronic back pain.

1. Bending is dangerous

2. Discs slip

3. Nerves are trapped

4. Pain comes from facet joints, discs etc

5. Low back pain is in isolation to everything else in your life.

Comments below:-


1. Bending is normal. Sure it can hurt when the back is being protected, and when we have back pain the muscles are guarding and this can reduce the amount of movement. In the acute phase, most positions and movements hurt, but this is protection and it is meant to be unpleasant in order to motivate action. Moving little and often, changing position and breathing all help to keep blood and oxygen flowing.

2. Discs are not actually discs and they do not go anywhere. Yes they can be injured like any other tissue. They can bulge and affect the local environment, and they can herniate, triggering a healing response — both can hurt because protection is initiated. The fact that there are so many nerve endings around the area mean that sensitivity can arise in a vigorous manner. Again, this is a normal if highly unpleasant experience. Remember that a 1/3 of the population have such changes in their spine but without any pain. The body as a whole must rate the situation as threatening for it to hurt.

3. Nerves do not get trapped. Local swelling and inflammation can sensitise the nerves meaning that they send danger signals. There is not too much room either, so if there is swelling or a bulge, this can affect blood flow to the nerve itself and cause sensitivity to movement and local chemical changes. Again, this can happen without pain as well, so it is down to the individual’s body systems and how they respond. Understanding, gradually moving and breathing can all help ease you through this phase.

4. Pain is whole person and involves many body systems that are protecting you. There is no pain system, pain centre or pain signalling. Pain is part of a protective response when the body deems itself to be under threat. We feel pain in the body but the underlying mechanisms are upstream of the body part that hurts. To successfully overcome pain we must go upstream as well as addressing the health of the body tissues.

5. Low back pain is embedded within your lifestyle. It is not separate to how you live — e.g. lack of exercise, postures, work, stress, emotional state, previous experiences, understanding of back pain, gender, genetics, just to name a few. This maybe more complex, but this provides many avenues for overcoming pain.

Suffering with persisting back pain? Have other seemingly different problems such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), headaches, migraines, other joint pains, muscular pains, pelvic pain, jaw pain, recurring bladder infections? Contact me today to learn how you can move forward and overcome your pain: 07518 445493


Fibromyalgia in women | #fibromyalgia

I see many women suffering with fibromyalgia. I also see many women who have widespread aches and pains, frequently without an injury, but rather a gradual increase in pain across the body. This maybe fibromyalgia, but in essence we are talking about sensitisation that evolves if no action is taken.

The commonest profile is this: a woman with young children (may have had some problems conceiving), aches and pains across the body, disturbed sleep or too little sleep, always tired, emotions and mood vary, concentration and focus can wax and wane, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS — bloating, pain), migraines, headaches, jaw pain (perhaps grinding in her sleep), anxious, ‘stressy’, very little time to rest and recuperate, repeated bladder infections (often there is no actual infection, but the symptoms are the same) and poor recovery from illnesses. 

There is a common biological thread with these problems. On appearance it would be logical to assume that they are unrelated — many healthcare professionals also take this view. BUT, this is not the case. These functional pain syndromes are all manifest of adaptations in the nervous system, immune system, autonomic nervous system and endocrine system. The good news is that the changes are not set in stone because we are mouldable, or plastic. We learn and adapt according to our thinking, beliefs and actions.

Understanding your pain changes your thinking so this is the initial step. Thoughts are based on beliefs and evolve to ‘I can change my pain’ when you know the facts. First setting up your thinking, then creating a vision to aim for and finally making a definite plan to follow allows you to head towards sustainable change with healthy habits. It is a challenge, but one that is wholly worthwhile.

Women in Pain Clinic is based at 132 Harley Street in London — call now to start your programme and move forward 07932 689081




5 reasons why I use manual therapy for cases of persisting pain

Some will argue that manual therapy — joint and/or soft tissue techniques — has no role in chronic pain. I disagree. Why?

(In no particular order)

1. Touch is normal and it is something that we do when we care.
2. Hands on treatment is expected when you visit a physiotherapist or physical therapist.
3. Stimulation in the area of the body that hurts can feel good. If it causes little or no pain, the brain is happy and interpreting the stimulus (touch, pressure, movement) as being safe. More of that please! A great way to desensitise and for the experience of pleasure in the affected area.
4. Change the brain’s output by addressing the area with therapy that feels good — that’s the output feeling good, along with reflexive reduction in protection.
5. What do you do if you bang your elbow? Rub it. In chronic pain, you may need to think about how and when to rub it, but nonetheless, rubbing it needs. Combine rubbing with visual feedback and there you have a pain relieving strategy.


Low back pain & neck pain | a very common problem

Most of us will experience low back pain and neck pain at some point in our lives. In fact, it is unusual not to have some aches and pains around the spine. With back and neck pain being so common in the modern world, you would assume that treatment is very effective. Sadly not.

There are different scenarios with back and neck pain, often either a nasty acute type pain or a lower level nagging pain that grinds on and on. A further common situation that I see is a persisting back pain that is part of an overall picture of widespread pain. Accompanying the pain is altered movement and muscle tension that adds to the unpleasantness. This is mainly due to the effects of overactive muscles that are being told to protect the area — acids released, reduced oxygen levels; both of which can excite local nerve endings (nociceptors) that send danger signals to the brain.

When a particular movement or action triggers the pain, we assume that this is dangerous and the cause of the pain. This is not quite the case. There is a lead up to the moment of pain when the nervous system is becoming sensitised, often slowly, over a period of time. This is called priming. Then, at a given moment, when the system is close to the threshold of becoming excited, a normally innocuous movement just tips the physiology over the line with a consequential range of protective responses that include pain, spasm and altered movement.

Sometimes there are changes in the tissues or ‘damage’. Again there is often an assumption that when the pain begins, this is the point of injury. This can be the case but equally the changes in the tissues may have been evolving over a period of time. The reality is that you will never really know, even with a scan. The scan may show a disc bulge or herniation but does this describe your pain? Or tell you when the problem began? No.

Unpleasant as the body responses are, they are normal, necessary and part of the way in which the body defends itself, largely organised by the brain. The pain draws our attention to the area that the brain wants us to protect. When the pain is severe of course our attentional bias will be towards the region most of the time — hypervigilance. How we think about the pain will determine the impact, level of suffering and influences the trajectory of the problem as our thoughts and beliefs about back pain will impact upon what action is taken. In the very acute stages, there may not be a great choice when the pain and spasm is strong, thereby limiting movement vigorously. It is good to know that this phase, as horrible as it can be, does not last too long in most cases if the right action is taken based on good knowledge.

It is always advisable to seek help and guidance: know that nature of the problem, how long it can go on, what is normal and what you need to do to ensure a good recovery. Generally, understanding that pain is not an accurate indicator of tissue damage — see video here — , controlling the pain with various measures in the early stages and trying to move as best you can starts off on the right footing. It can be scary when the pain is severe, so calming strategies really help to reduce the impact — anxiety is based on thinking catastrophically about the problem, thereby triggering more body defences in pain and tension. Mindful breathing and other relaxation skills should be practiced regularly.

In summary, back pain and neck pain are very common. The primary message here is that the acute stages are unpleasant and often distressing but they do not last long in most cases if the problem is managed well with understanding to reduce concerns and to minimise the threat value, good pain control, simple movement strategies and a little treatment to ease tension and change the sensory processing in the body so that it feels more comfortable.

If you have low back pain or neck pain, especially persisting pain or widespread pain, come and see us to find out how you can change your pain and get moving again: call 07932 689081



Endometriosis & Melatonin | Women and Pain Series

Chronic pelvic pain is a troubling condition for many women. The reason for pelvic pain varies but certainly includes endometriosis where the lesions impact upon nerve health and function (see here) with consequential sensitisation. The purported mechanisms of pain include inflammatory pain and neuropathic pain with subsequent central sensitisation that underpins the persistance and variance often described.

Pain is an output, a response to the brain’s perception of what is happening in the body. The sensation of pain emerges from that part of the body deemed in need of protection. The pain itself is modulated by a range of factors including stress, fatigue, anxiety and the environment. The actual feeling of pain is the end result of the brain’s analysis of what is going on ‘now’ on the basis of what it already knows and has learned. Hence, prior experience can flavour the pain. Changes in the spinal cord and higher centres can amplify danger signals, modulate normal signals (begin as normal and communicate with nociceptors, therefore the brain receives a danger signal despite the initiating impulse being one of touch; i.e./ allodynia) and are responsible for the varying patterns of pain such as when a treatment helps on one occasion yet seemingly worsens the pain on a subsequent occasion.

Alongside the painful experience there are other body and brain responses to the perceived threat. Altered control of movement that includes guarding and protective posturing that leads to patterns of on-going chronic tension. In the case of pelvic pain this emerges around the pelvic girdle, in the abdomen and in the spinal muscles and often across the body. It is not unusual to find that there are many tender and tight areas when the body has been protected for some time, demonstrating a more widespread pattern. Often there is sensitivity expressed via other body systems , for example the gastrointestinal system in IBS, headaches, migraine and recurring bladder infections to name but a few. General health can often be impacted upon, with levels of activity diminishing alongside a fear of moving and socialising (a gradual withdrawal from being out with friends and family). This typically leads to a downward spiral affecting mood, self-esteem and manifesting with anxiety in many situations. It is really a ‘hyper-protective’ state physically and mentally where many cues become threatening and hence we protect, sometimes consciously by making choices and frequently automatically or habitually. Breaking this pattern however, is entirely possible.

We are fundamentally designed to change, evolve and grow. When we set the right conditions physically and mentally (and it has to be both), then we can move forward and change our outlook and experience. I know that an individual is going to progress when they start changing their language, metaphor use and at the same time their appearance changes via posture, facial expression and general demeanour. The spark returns.

The optimal approach requires that we consider all the dimensions of pain: physical, cognitive and emotional. This must be integrated and a programme created to meet the unique needs of the person. Concomitant with a range of strategies and training techniques to retrain normal movement, tension patterns, ease pain, tackle stress and anxiety etc, medication can play a role. The efficacy of pain medication is varied and often there are side-effects to consider. A recent study looked at the use of melatonin for endometriosis-associated pain with some very interesting results.

The commentary of Timothy Ness in Pain 154 (2013) 775 summarises the study below: ‘The article by Schwertner et al..demonstrated efficacy of the hormone, melatonin, in the treatment of endometriosis-associated pain… of the few medications which have proven useful in the treatment of endometriosis-associated pelvic pain but it is also notable as an example of the back-and-forth translational process associated with preclinical models of pain/analgesia and the clinical demonstration of treatment efficacy.’ And, ‘In this particular example the information flow went in both directions from humans to non-humans and then back again’. He refers to the fact that the data produced in rats was also found in humans. Many studies use rodents as subjects with obvious limitations in terms of extrapolating data for humans.

Pain. 2013 Jun;154(6):874-81. doi: 10.1016/j.pain.2013.02.025. Epub 2013 Mar 5.

Efficacy of melatonin in the treatment of endometriosis: a phase II, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.

Schwertner A, Conceição Dos Santos CC, Costa GD, Deitos A, de Souza A, de Souza IC, Torres IL, da Cunha Filho JS, Caumo W.


Laboratory of Pain & Neuromodulation at Hospital de Clínicas de Porto Alegre (HCPA)/Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), Porto Alegre, Brazil.


Endometriosis-associated chronic pelvic pain (EACPP) presents with an intense inflammatory reaction. Melatonin has emerged as an important analgesic, antioxidant, and antiinflammatory agent. This trial investigates the effects of melatonin compared with a placebo on EACPP, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) level, and sleep quality. Forty females, aged 18 to 45 years, were randomized into the placebo (n = 20) or melatonin (10 mg) (n = 20) treatment groups for a period of 8 weeks. There was a significant interaction (time vs group) regarding the main outcomes of the pain scores as indexed by the visual analogue scale on daily pain, dysmenorrhea, dysuria, and dyschezia (analysis of variance, P < 0.01 for all analyses). Post hoc analysis showed that compared with placebo, the treatment reduced daily pain scores by 39.80% (95% confidence interval [CI] 12.88-43.01%) and dysmenorrhea by 38.01% (95% CI 15.96-49.15%). Melatonin improved sleep quality, reduced the risk of using an analgesic by 80%, and reduced BNDF levels independently of its effect on pain. This study provides additional evidence regarding the analgesic effects of melatonin on EACPP and melatonin’s ability to improve sleep quality. Additionally, the study revealed that melatonin modulates the secretion of BDNF and pain through distinct mechanisms.

For further information about our proactive treatment, training and coaching programmes for chronic pain and injury, or to book an appointment please call us on 07932 689081 | Women in Pain Clinic in Harley Street


J Pain Symptom Manage. 2012 Nov 27. 

Analgesic and Sedative Effects of Melatonin in Temporomandibular Disorders: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Parallel-Group, Placebo-Controlled Study.

Vidor LP, Torres IL, de Souza IC, Fregni F, Caumo W.


Postgraduate Program in Medical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil.



The association between myofascial temporomandibular disorder (TMD) and nonrestorative sleep supports the investigation of therapies that can modulate the sleep/wake cycle. In this context, melatonin becomes an attractive treatment option for myofascial TMD pain.


To investigate the effects of melatonin on pain (primary aim) and sleep (secondary aim) as compared with placebo in a double-blind, randomized, parallel-group trial.


Thirty-two females, aged 20-40 years, with myofascial TMD pain were randomized into placebo or melatonin (5mg) treatment groups for a period of four weeks.


There was a significant interaction (time vs. group) for the main outcomes of pain scores as indexed by the visual analogue scale and pressure pain threshold (analysis of variance; P<0.05 for these analyses). Post hoc analysis showed that the treatment reduced pain scores by -44% (95% CI -57%, -26%) compared with placebo, and it also increased the pressure pain threshold by 39% (95% CI 14%, 54%). The use of analgesic doses significantly decreased with time (P<0.01). The daily analgesic doses decreased by -66% (95% CI -94%, -41%) when comparing the two groups. Additionally, melatonin improved sleep quality, but its effect on pain was independent of the effect on sleep quality.


This study provides additional evidence supporting the analgesic effects of melatonin on pain scores and analgesic consumption in patients with mild-to-moderate chronic myofascial TMD pain. Furthermore, melatonin improves sleep quality but its effect on pain appears to be independent of changes in sleep quality.