Many men experience chronic pelvic pain that significantly affects their lives. When we talk of pelvic pain, we often think about women and their suffering, however, this problem is one that besets both sexes and hence we must encourage all who endure such pain to seek help. As with any persisting pain state, pelvic pain impacts upon the way we think, the way we act and the decisions we make, thereby intruding on quality of life.
There are many reasons why men can suffer pelvic pain. To identify all the causes is not the purpose of this blog, but rather to highlight the problem and provide an insight into how the body becomes stuck in a protective mode. This is the experiential dimension, the story that is told and the narrative that provides all the clues. For the pelvic pain itself is downstream, and with chronic pain we must also go upstream to look at the context within which the pain is happening.
Most people who come to see me do not have pathology or ‘damage’ that justifies the pain response that they suffer. Some have nothing of note at all as shown by scans and other tests. Understanding that you can be in pain without an injury is an important step towards changing pain — for those new to this notion, consider phantom limb pain for a moment. Often there is a start point that involves inflammation, which shifts the body into protect mode. Protect mode involves many body systems, conscious and unconscious behaviours (the latter being habits and conditioned responses). When the body is protecting itself, the area needing attention and defending will hurt, but we also move differently and think differently — if you have a painful ankle, you may think twice about ‘popping’ out to the shop for a paper.
In many cases, these protective responses die down as healing progresses. However, this does not always happen, and with statistics suggesting that 20% of the population suffer chronic pain, many continue to experience protection despite the tissues healing — pain, tension, a different sense of the body (there are many other feelings and sensations described to me, and I encourage this narrative so that I can fully appreciate the story). My thinking about this on-going protection is that the body senses all is not as well as it should be. In other words, the individual is not fully fit, the tissues (muscles, joints etc) are not entirely healthy, behaviours are not orientated towards health, and lifestyle factors in which pain is embedded have not been addressed satisfactorily. This is a huge topic to address at another time, but suffice to say, as much as pain is multi-factoral, so is recovery, which is why a programme to change pain must address the biology of pain and all the influences upon this biology (they are also biology!).
Back to the pelvis, an area full of muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and other soft tissues. From the pelvis ‘hang’ the legs, and on top sits the trunk. And let’s not forget the genitals, and both their importance and necessary sensitivity. The deep tension and pain that one feels in this region is truly visceral, radiating out into the groin and abdomen, accompanied by an awful tension and pulling in the muscles and testicles. Once the pelvis is grabbing your attention, it can be hard to distract yourself without learning how to change body tension.
In this very personal tale of pelvic pain, Tim Parks describes his own journey via the book he wrote, “Teach us to sit still”. It’s a wonderful read for so many reasons, and I frequently encourage patients to tuck in. For me though, the bottom line is that Tim has validated a problem that needs addressing in a comprehensive manner, because so often there is no serious pathology despite the significance of the suffering. Getting to grips with this is part of moving forward and should be embraced. We do not need pathology to hurt. There are other reasons, one of which includes, as Tim says, sitting on your pelvis for 20 years and being stressed — this is by far enough to cause nasty pelvic pain!
What do you do when you are stressed? Tense muscles. This has an energy cost and impacts on the way oxygen is delivered to those very muscles. Consider exercising a muscle over and over. It hurts. It is exactly the same in the pelvis that you may be parked (no pun intended Tim!) on for extended periods of time. “I don’t get stressed” you may say. First of all, I don’t believe you (sorry!), because we all stress out at times and secondly, most of the time we are unaware of what our body is doing in response to our thoughts, environment and what we are doing; that is until it is too late — ooh, my ____ hurts because I haven’t moved for ____ hours (fill in the gaps).
So, what can we do. What do we need to do. Here are a few things that I believe are fundamental to changing what your body is doing:
- Understand your pain and condition — that’s your clinician’s job, to help you.
- Create awareness of how your body is responding rather than being on autopilot and then fire-fighting when it gets too much.
- Think about what the body needs — oxygen to the tissues, especially nerves that become very grumpy when the supply drops (numb bum from being sat too long) — and make sure you do enough to nourish the muscles: move and breathe!
- Go upstream of the pelvic pain, and look long and hard at your lifestyle and environments — e.g. How are you doing things? Where are you doing things? What habits can you release and change?
Chronic pain is a huge and costly global problem. The main reason why this is true is because of misunderstandings and the low expectations of successfully overcoming the condition (patients and clinicians) because the focus is upon treating ‘structures’ deemed to cause pain. Pain is not a structure, hence why this approach fails. The science of pain has moved forward hugely over the past 10 years and continues to deliver a new understanding. This new understanding challenges existing thinking, and it needs to. Pioneers of pain are hard at work and are finding ways to reduce suffering, and we can. It starts with a change of thinking based on new knowledge. Your knowledge that is translated into effective action.
If you are suffering pelvic pain, get in touch and start your programme to overcome your pain — call us now 07518 445493 — Specialist clinic in London and Surrey for chronic pain & persisting pain