What is chronic pelvic pain?
Chronic pelvic pain occurs in the lower abdomen or pelvis in females. The pain is recurrent, distressing and interferes with the ability to perform daily activities.
How does the body send pain signals?
Our bodies contain many types of nerves that give information to our brain about what is going on around us and inside us. Some nerves that send sensations, such as touch, pressure, and temperature, send signals to make us aware of our surroundings. These nerves are set to fire at lower thresholds, which means they are working most of the time and sending signals with even the smallest amount of stimulation.
Nerves that signal pain are meant to fire only when there is a true threat that our body could be harmed. For example, serious infections and injuries that cause bleeding and bruising usually create enough inflammation to turn on pain nerves. These nerves send signals to the spinal cord and turn on other nerves to forward pain signals to the brain.
Once the body has healed and inflammation has gone away, the pain nerves will stop sending their alert signals to the brain and the feeling of pain will go away.
However, pain nerves sometimes become too sensitive and do not stop sending signals to the brain even after inflammation is gone. These sensitive nerves recruit other nerves in the spinal cord to send their own pain signals. This leads to painful areas in other parts of the body.
Sensitive nerves that lie near muscle groups can irritate muscles to the point where they spasm and create new pain signals leading to chronic pain conditions. Depressed mood, stress and anxiety from chronic pain or other factors can stimulate nerve pain signaling and worsen muscle spasms.
What causes pelvic pain?
There are many conditions that can create inflammation in the pelvis and lower abdomen. This inflammation can turn on pain-signaling nerves in the pelvic area. Ovulation, cyst rupture, endometriosis, bladder infections and inflammation of the bowel and bladder are just a few problems that create enough inflammation to turn on pain-signaling nerves.
What makes the management of pain tricky is that the amount of inflammation present doesn’t always create the same amount of pain in all people. People with sensitive nerves may have very little inflammation, but have severe pain because their nerves are more sensitive and fire more easily.
- A Headache in the Pelvis: A New Understanding and Treatment for Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndromes, 6th edition, David Wise, PhD and Rodney Anderson, MD
- What to expect at your visit at Children’s Colorado Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology