When my pelvic pain got bad enough, I was referred to Summa Health physical therapist Amy Senn in September 2012. I had no idea how tight my pelvic muscles were and that it included my spine, back and down my thighs. Once Amy started working with me, I realized the pelvic pain had spread even more pain up and down my body, stiffening and locking up so many muscles. The vulvodynia was taken care of, but it had taught my pelvic muscles to stay tight and painful.
It was awkward at first having a medical professional work vaginally to loosen the muscles. Amy has always been very professional. Quickly my body was able to relax at the appointments and it was like any doctor’s appointment you may have for pain. She even allowed my husband to come to several appointments and learn a few techniques so he can help me between physical therapy appointments.
She provided me with many exercises to stretch and relax muscles. I do these exercises often and sometimes on a daily basis at home. I keep every exercise she gives me in my physical therapy binder.
As a patient I feel it’s vital that I do my part to take the best care I can of my body. Anything I can do to keep my body in shape and as pain free as possible helps Amy to focus on the work that I can’t do myself. That way she can loosen the muscles that give me the most trouble in our physical therapy sessions.
Through my time working with her I’ve purchased several medical devices (such as dilators) to work on teaching my muscles to relax. I feel like a dork when I get excited about a new physical therapy device whether it’s for pelvic pain specifically or my back or legs. But truly each device that helps even a little can go a long way in reducing recovery time.
During one of my physical therapy sessions Amy actually discovered that my left leg was shorter than my right. We added a lift in my left shoe and I was shocked. I remember saying, “Oh my God walking is supposed to feel this easy?” Without the lift my pelvis was constantly out of alignment causing more pelvic pain and limiting my progress.
I’ve been working with Amy for nearly 5 years. One year I’d have no pain, and the next I’d have to go back to physical therapy. Everyone’s pelvic pain story is different. For me the pain can flair up from my anxiety, my period, regular stress in life, or an emergency appendectomy. Luckily I have two wonderful daughters and those births did not make my pelvic pain worse, they actually helped by loosening my muscles during vaginal birth.
Because this condition takes up so much of my time I’ve done a great deal of research and found several other organizations dedicated to pelvic pain, books and even made friends at a Pelvic Pain Conference for patients. Together we started an online support group to help each other recover and share. Feeling so alone in all this is what pushes me to speak out. It’s awful to be in pain, but it’s not like saying you have back pain. You’re scared to share it with anyone since it’s in a sexual area of your body. You don’t know how you’ll be perceived.
As patients we need to advocate for ourselves, research our doctors and chart how we’re feeling, including what seems to be helping and what isn’t helping.
Once you learn what you can do to relieve the pain, just the thought helps you feel better. And connecting with others that have similar pain is also such a relief. You are not alone.
Like I said in my last blog post, it is vital that we teach our next generation to talk openly about their entire bodies, know the correct terms for all their body parts, including the “sexual” ones, and find a way to be comfortable talking about sex. Many women and men would have been diagnosed so much sooner if they had felt comfortable talking, and many doctors will learn and believe patients have real pain as more people speak up.
Luckily for me, Summa Health had the doctors and has the physical therapy services that have truly saved my life.
Valerie A. Heck Esmont
Summa Health Patient/Guest Blogger