This article is the third in a series relating to pelvic floor muscle dysfunction. I thought it would be the easiest of the 3 articles to write. Instead, it’s turned out to be the most complex. Our emotions effect every aspect of our body, including the pelvic floor. The first article, Pelvic Floor Dysfunction And The Problem With Kegels, explained how doing a commonly prescribed pelvic floor exercise, kegels, could be contributing to pelvic floor muscle dysfunction. The second article, The Whole Body Connection And Pelvic Floor Muscle Dysfunction, examined the importance of including areas above and below the pelvis for optimal treatment results. The intention of this third article is to look at pelvic floor muscle dysfunction and the emotional component.
Emotions come from the Greek word…to move. We experience a variety of emotions throughout our day. These emotions only become a problem for us when we get stuck in a particular emotional pattern. Most of us have heard the common phrase….”Our thoughts create our reality”. How can that be? If I think something, it will be?? There were two movies several years back called “The Secret” and “What The Bleep Are We Doing Here”, which showed the science behind this phenomenon. Our thoughts cause the release of a chemical substance, called neuropeptides, from the brain either into the blood stream where it will attach to the surface of cells anywhere in the body or directly in the brain. There are more then a thousand different neuropeptides which can all trigger specific but different physiological responses within the cell that they bind to. Hormones, adrenaline, endorphins are examples of of neuropeptides. Feelings such as stress, fear, worry, grief, anger are all very prevalent in our life style. These feelings will cause the release of a specific neuropeptide which will alter the chemical activity of the cell that it binds to. Any prolonged negative mental state can cause weakness in the part of the body affected.
Here are some examples of how emotions can affect our body:
Many of us have childhood memories of a favorite aunt or grandparent and the smells that came out of their kitchen when we visited. Have you ever walked by a restaurant and had the familiar smell come through which automatically elicited the memory of that time in your life? Smells elicit emotions….good and bad.
If you’ve ever been in a car accident and had the automatic tensing of your body even years after you drive by the scene of the accident, that is another example of an emotion being stored in the body.
Stressful feelings cause an increase of tension in the body. Happy or joyful feelings bring about relaxation in the body.
How do emotions specifically relate to pelvic floor muscle dysfunction? Urinary incontinence is experienced by both men and women. Stress incontinence happens with a cough, or a sneeze, running and jumping. Urge incontinence is an involuntary loss of urine due to an inappropriate contraction of the bladder. Both kinds of incontinence cause emotional reactions in men and women. Feelings of embarrassment, fear and anxiety are very common. Men and women may exclude themselves from activities to avoid the embarrassment. This leads to isolation.
Oftentimes, long trips are avoided due to the fear of not being able to find a restroom. It can also affect sexuality and sensuality. Both men and women may avoid sexual intimacy if they fear leakage. Certainly wearing pads takes away from a feeling of sensuality.
Dyspareunia is pain with intercourse. If intimacy is painful, it is not pleasurable. The body tenses with painful experiences. When dyspareunia continues over an extended period, the body will naturally tense in preparing for intercourse. For women, even if they have desire to be intimate with their partner, they find themselves avoiding intimacy. Their partners will often question the desire of their partner and if they want to be with them. This causes further separation of the partners. Talking about the issue is difficult due to the embarrassment that is often present.
Men also experience pain with intercourse. It can happen with erections or ejaculation. This can cause erectile dysfunction or premature ejaculation. This has a tendency to bring about a feeling of anxiety, fear, failure and inadequacy. Erectile dysfunction is commonly talked about in the male pelvic health arena. However, in reality, not being able to perform, or even the thought of not being able to perform, brings on feelings of anxiety and inadequacy which can lead to further cycle of dysfunction and avoidance. So, there may or may not be a true physical problem. The problem could be transitory however, once experienced, it takes on a life of it’s own and occupies the thought patterns of the male and diminishes natural arousal or the ability to sustain arousal.
Victims of sexual abuse often have deep hidden emotional scars which can affect their ability to have healthy relationships as well as affecting the health of the pelvic organs.
We are now beginning to talk freely about incontinence, pelvic pain and pelvic floor muscle dysfunction in both men and women. In looking for a solution to some of these issues, it’s important to be aware of the emotional component and how it could be a part of pelvic floor muscle dysfunction. Sometimes, the best physical treatment will only bring about a limited improvement because there is an emotional component that has not been addressed.
In summary, each emotional response will cause a specific chemical reaction within the cell, altering it’s function. Prolonged negative emotional states can affect the health our organs. This can happen anywhere in the body- head and neck causing chronic headaches, stomach issues, digestive issues, and pelvic floor muscle issues. Emotional events may have triggered the actual dysfunction, such as in trauma or abuse. Physical issues can bring about emotional issues which then further compromise the problem. This is easily seen in cases of urinary incontinence where embarrassment and shame cause isolation and anxiety. Understanding and being open to the emotional component can help to fully address the symptom complex that is being presented with any physical symptom.
Jody Hendryx PT, LMT