Understanding sexual health conditions
Biofeedback: physical therapists conduct this treatment mainly to help you learn how to strengthen and relax your pelvic floor muscles in order to improve your bladder function and decrease pelvic pain. Biofeedback uses electronic and mechanical instruments to accurately measure the action of your pelvic floor muscles and provide “feedback” information.
Chronic pelvic pain: pain in your pelvis, anterior abdominal wall, lower back and/or buttocks that lasts longer than six months. Clinically significant chronic pelvic pain affects your quality of life, your ability to function well physically and your ability to sleep.
Clitoris: a small, sensitive, erectile organ at the upper end of the female genitals. A clitoris is a female sexual organ that is often compared to the male penis because of its sensitivity.
Dysmenorrhea: a medical term for painful periods. It’s the leading cause of lost time from work or school for women in their 20s. You’ll experience painful periods, especially within the first few days. Your symptoms may include nausea, diarrhea, lower back pain, lower abdominal pain, and pain within or near your hips or inner thighs.
Endometriosis: a medical condition in which tissue similar to the lining of your uterus grows outside your uterine cavity on other organs inside your body. It’s found most commonly on tissues overlying your ovaries, Fallopian tubes and other pelvic organs. Endometrial tissue responds to hormones just as it does in the lining of the uterus: it grows, thickens and then breaks down — shedding and bleeding at the end of each month-long cycle. This condition may be associated with pelvic pain or infertility.
Interstitial cystitis: also known as painful bladder, this is a chronic bladder condition, in which the cause not fully understood. During flares, symptoms can include bladder pain, urgency, frequency and pelvic pain. Frequency can be quite severe and persistent, as often as every 10 minutes. The condition is often misdiagnosed as recurrent urinary infections, or other conditions associated with urgency or frequency.
Kegels: an exercise developed by Arnold Kegel, MD, designed to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles — especially the pubococcygeal (PC) muscles — to increase vaginal muscle tone, improve sexual response and limit involuntary urine release due to stress urinary incontinence. These exercises are often prescribed following childbirth or during and after menopause.
Myofascial pelvic pain syndrome: refers to pain in your pelvic floor muscles attributed to increased pelvic floor muscle tension. It may be caused by a variety of muscular or neurologic disorders as well as pelvic floor.
Myofascial trigger points: abnormally tight bands of muscle fibers that cause pain. It usually involves localized areas of muscle spasms that cause active or passive pain and tenderness.
Neuropathic pain: refers to pain resulting from damage or disease affecting the somatosensory system (sensations in your skin and deep tissues). It may be associated with abnormal sensations (dysesthesia) or pain produced by normally non-painful stimuli, often described as burning pain, coldness, “pins and needles,” numbness or itching.
Pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD): this refers to any disorder involving your pelvic floor muscles and the pelvic organs supported by your pelvic floor. It’s often associated with other conditions that combine to cause chronic pelvic pain.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): an infection of your pelvic organs, usually involving your uterus, tubes and ovaries. It occurs when bacteria travel up though your cervix into your uterus and infect your internal female reproductive organs. It can lead to serious infections, abscesses or infertility, if left untreated.
Perineum: surface area between your thighs extending from your tailbone to your pubic bone that includes the anus and the external genitals.
Prolapse: a condition where pelvic floor organs, such as your uterus or vaginal walls lose their support and herniate (fall) through the vaginal opening. This is truly a hernia that results from weakening the pelvic floor support; weakening of the muscles and ligaments, which suspend the pelvic floor organs in position. This is a very common condition and can present in different stages. Mild prolapse can be treated with exercises and physical therapy.
Provoked vestibulodynia/vulvar vestibulitis syndrome: a localized, provoked pain specific to an area of the vulva between your clitoris and your vaginal opening. You may have noticed the pain the first time you tried to use a tampon or attempt intercourse, or it may have developed over time. It’s associated with severe vaginal pain with penetration. You may notice tenderness and pressure in your vulva area. Symptoms include severe pain with pressure or vaginal entry, burning, stinging, irritation or raw sensations. You also may feel the urge to urinate frequently or suddenly.
Uterine prolapse: this occurs when the ligaments and muscles near your uterus are no longer strong enough to hold your uterus in place and it can’t remain in its normal position. Your uterus can fall/slide into the vaginal area. This condition can be a result of childbirth or other chronic condition that cause a lot of pressure to the pelvic floor such as obesity, chronic cough, constipation or heavy lifting. It can result in a sensation of constant pressure, incomplete bladder or bowel emptying, painful intercourse, frequent urination or even vaginal bleeding.
Vaginismus: painful involuntary contraction of your vagina in response to physical contact or pressure (esp. in sexual intercourse).
Vulva: the external female genitalia, composed of the hairy areas surrounding the vagina, labia majora (large lips) and minora (small lips), the clitoris, the opening of the vagina and the urethra.
Vulvodynia: a disorder associated with vulvar pain, burning and discomfort, which interferes with your quality of life. It can be caused by trauma, infection, inflammation, skin conditions or medical conditions that cause nerve injury. Often times the cause is unknown.