Wait, what?! Ok, so my vagina is not *really* broken — but my “dysfunctional pelvic floor” just didn’t sound nearly as funny.
And yes, I have learned to laugh about this seemingly random and weird, but serious health issue. I have also learned a lot about my body through this long and painful process. Spoiler alert: putting a little alcohol on it… helped! So, sharing is caring, right? If you haven’t figured it out already, this post may be TMI for many of you — but it is not for ladies only; this issue can happen to men as well. Yes, really. I must disclose that I am NOT medically minded, I have zero medical educational background… I’m simply sharing my own extremely personal experience. I will be graphic. I will swear.
Read on at your own discretion.
After thanksgiving, I thought I had a urinary tract infection. I had the classic symptoms: urgency and intense pain. I used to have chronic UTIs, so I have a urologist, antibiotics and even cups and lab-slips to take urine samples to the lab without having to make an appointment or going to urgent care — basically, a proactive, immediate fix on hand at all times. I have to call my urologist 48hrs after starting the antibiotics and dropping off the urine sample to see if the test came back positive, and if I should stay on that particular antibiotic, or switch to something more powerful.
My labs came back negative.
But… I was still in pain. I didn’t understand.
I scheduled an appointment with my urologist while the hubs was on one of his many
annoying business trips. My urologist asked me questions and gave me a pelvic exam — she almost immediately diagnosed me with something I had never heard of before: pelvic floor tension myalgia.
It was one of those shocking moments where I was relieved there was a diagnosis, yet, my ears started to ring and became numb to everything my urologist was telling me; I struggled to absorb what she was even saying. Here’s what I remember from that rather foggy moment:
- The easiest way to describe it is to compare it to a charlie-horse in your pelvic floor. Lots of muscles contracting, but not releasing.
- There is no known cause.
- In order to “correct” this, 2-6 months (!) of physical therapy twice/week may be necessary, involving internal and external massage as well as electrode therapy.
- You’ll need to avoid spicy and acidic foods like peppers, tomatoes, citrus fruits, vinegar, etc, maybe even avoid gluten and adopt a “caveman diet” (!!!)
- Fiber is your friend. Constipation is not.
- If the physical therapy doesn’t help, injections may have to be implemented in order to provide relief.
- PFD is becoming so common, I diagnose about 10 people/week with this, and I have a staff of physical therapists that focus on treating this issue.
- Take baths 2-3 times/day if you can. It can be vital in relieving the pain.
- Avoid running, lunges, squats, kegals… but… sex is ok, as long as it’s not causing more pain.
I think I floated out of my urologist’s in a haze after being handed a stack of paperwork about this issue and making my first physical therapy appointment.
What… just… happened?
As I walked back to my invisible jet, my brain swirled. This is common?! But… why haven’t I heard of it before? I need physical therapy… WHERE?! I have to limit my diet?! I have to take baths 2-3x/day… in my tiny tub where I feel like a beached whale?! How?!
I need a beer already!
I contacted the hubs in Iowa and attempted to sort out the cobwebs and explain everything. He agreed to take me to my first physical therapy appointment when he came back. I had no idea what to expect.
I frantically googled and came up fairly empty, which brought me to tears. Why aren’t all these people that are supposedly being diagnosed on a daily basis sharing their experiences? Stupid stigmas!
During my first physical therapy appointment, after the hubs, well, in his words “I’m being given directions on how to finger my wife, by a woman?!” The hubs encouraged me to write about it so I could find the humor. I’m like… I don’t even know what’s happening to me!! I don’t want to write just to fish for sympathy — that’s not me! I’ll write about it once I have some answers.
3 months later, I have a few answers. At least — what worked for me.
That’s the first answer –> everyone is different.
My physical therapists are incredible; they are so good they may say try this and that and another thing, but they will never say “this will fix it.”
The pain I experienced started very similar to urinary tract infection pain, but it seemed to be localized in my upper pelvic region on my left side. The pelvic floor is like a sling (or a hammock if you’re a visual person like me) — my pain would start at top left side of that “hammock” and tend to radiate south. Sex was painful, relieving myself was painful, even finding a comfortable sitting position was a challenge.
I couldn’t do much of anything other than laying in bed under a heating pad or attempt to take a bath/shower combo until the hot water would run out. Eating out sucked at first — trying to find menu items that didn’t contain things on my restricted diet was not fun at all. I had to bail on things I really didn’t want to bail on… and suffer through certain things when I had to. Christmas? Ugh. Not much fun for this chic. Stress flared it up, but the stress of explaining this situation was something I didn’t always want to deal with, so I’d suck it up when I had to… and drink my way through it. The icing on the cake? The pain got worse before it got better.
Believe it or not… putting a little alcohol on it actually gave me relief! Though I was reluctant to try it at first, once I did, I quickly discovered that my beloved craft beer would numb my pain. I’m about 60% beer at this point anyhow, right? As I said earlier — every one is different, so I’m not saying alcohol will help everyone. I suppose since my body is used to drinking good beer, it responded positively to alcoholic therapy. Go figure. I’d have a beer, and I’d feel better, or just numb myself enough to not give a shit about the pain. Whatever it was — beer helped me, at least temporarily. Dragging my sorry vagina out of the house was a challenge at times, but… drinking at home was always an option. And if I was out, good luck finding me without a beer in my hand. Shocking, I know.
The therapy… oh my fucking vagina… so much pain. My therapists inquire where my pain level is on a scale of 1-10 at each appointment, and I have experienced level 10 pain in labor with a nearly 10lb baby — I KNOW pain. I was hitting 7s… sometimes 8.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: What do they do to you in therapy? Ha!! Well, I didn’t have the leakage issue that some people experience (hey look! a tiny silver lining!) so I’d imagine they adjust the treatment based on each individual’s symptoms and needs. For me, they need to release the tension, so… a therapist stretches out my pelvic floor, vaginally for about 5-10 minutes. Yes, it hurts. A lot. Another therapist massages the lower abdomen to release the muscles in the upper pelvic region. That can also be painful. The electrodes are then placed on my lower abdomen and under my upper thighs for 20 minutes. Electrodes are relieving for me and did not cause me pain, but again — every one is different.
After about 6 weeks of therapy, many patients start to experience relief. But me and my sad little vagina? I was not improving. At all.
Thankfully, my urologist and therapists are proactive. They checked my alignment… and hey, what do ya know — my left leg is longer than my right, so my alignment is off — which could be a root cause of all of this. So, now I do daily stretches to keep myself in alignment.
Still… I wasn’t seeing relief. Until… the injections.
Dum dum dummmmmm….
3 weeks ago, I headed to my urologist for 4 shots… in my pelvic floor. Vaginal Injection Party!! Let’s pop open some champagne and rock this bitch! These injections were SUPER painful. Imagine a shot of novocaine… but… in your pelvic floor instead of your mouth. Here’s the thing — I was already in so much pain, I was willing to do whatever it took to get over the worst of this and move on with my life. Shoot me up to release the pain and tension in my vagina? Why the fuck not?! The first two shots were not that bad. The second two… holy fuckballs. I nearly crawled up the wall and broke the hubs’ hand. Yowza. That hurt.
But, guess what? The relief… was almost immediate. I was sore for about 2-3 days after, but a different kind of sore. Once I got through those first few days… I could tell that the pain was beginning to exit stage right.
My physical therapy has been less painful, and I’ve been able to drop down to once/week. I’m actually considering dropping down to twice/month at this point — the injections helped so much. Sex is still moderately painful, but more pleasure than pain — finally. I’ve been able to be more active, generally speaking. I’ve even been sneaking pickles back into my diet. Slow & steady. I know I haven’t talked much about the diet aspect and how certain foods can flare this up — but that can be the case. The thing is, eliminating acidic foods is NOT easy!! Tomatoes and vinegar are in every damn thing I love! I’ve eaten a lot of bacon and eggs with my beer.
If you do get diagnosed with a dysfunctional pelvic floor… be patient. And try to find the humor. The first couple of months were so painful — physically and mentally. I had support from the select few loved ones I told, but I know just about every one of them started to wonder if I’d ever feel better. Believe me, I was 100x more frustrated with my lack of progress. I was reluctant to do the injections at first, but I’m glad I did them! 5 minutes of intense pain for relief? Yes, please.
Drinking beer helped me mentally and physically. I know… I KNOW it sounds completely insane. My physical therapists thought I was crazy too. Because for some patients, alcohol is like throwing, well, alcohol on a fire. Everyone is different. Remember my beer diaries last week? One of the reasons I had so much fun was because I finally felt like myself again. There were moments I actually forgot about my stupid pelvic floor altogether.
I’m still not 100% yet. I’m still going to physical therapy, and I’m even considering another round of injections just to be sure I stay on the path to good health. I will also hit the yoga studio again now that I’m up for such things.
So why the hell am I sharing this? Like I said earlier, I don’t want or need your sympathy. This issue is more common than many of us know… fuck the stigma. Those of us suffering shouldn’t stay silent — especially if you have found some answers that have helped you find relief. If you thought you had a UTI in the past and were puzzled by a negative result, talk to your doctor or urologist about your pelvic floor. And drink your way through it, if you can.