What is Pudendal Neuralgia and How Can Pelvic Floor Physical and Occupational Therapy Help?
- Written by Nancy Hoi Wong OTD, OTR/L, RYT200
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Pudendal Neuralgia (PN) is a condition that can cause chronic pain or numbness along the course of the pudendal nerve, which is the nerve that innervates the pelvic floor.
What is the pudendal nerve and what does it do?
The pudendal nerve, like other peripheral nerves in your body, is how your brain “connects” with the muscles and tissues of the body- sending and receiving messages between the brain and body like movement and sensation. When nerves get compressed, irritated, or constricted, problems can occur in this “message chain” and you might feel things like pain, numbness, tingling.
If you’ve ever had carpal tunnel syndrome or if your leg has ever fallen asleep while sitting criss cross apple sauce- you’ve experienced what nerve compression can feel like. Pudendal neuralgia is similar, just involving your pudendal nerve.
Symptoms of Pudendal Neuralgia
- Pelvic pain which include burning, shooting pain, stabbing pain, dull pain, and/or tingling, pins and needles sensation in the following structures:
- Pelvic floor muslces
- Perineal area
- Distal part of the urethra
- Anal canal
- Parts of the labia and vulva
- Pain with sitting
- Vulvar pain
- Penile Pain
- Clitoral pain
- Pain with bowel movements
- Pain with urination
- Pain with orgasm
Other issues which can occur alongside Pudendal Neuralgia:
- Fecal incontinence
- Urinary incontinence
- Numbness of the genitalia
What Causes Pudendal Neuralgia?
Two of the most common causes of Pudendal Neuralgia are:
- Nerve entrapment or compression along the course of the nerve, which causes nerve dysfunction, pain, and pelvic floor muscle dysfunction.
- Connective tissue abnormalities, which causes sensitization of the nerve resulting in pain and other symptoms.
Risk Factors for Pudendal Neuralgia
- Anatomy--some people are pre-disposed to having pudendal nerve issues due to the unique pathway of the nerve in their body and how it interfaces with various bony structures, muscles, etc.
- Physical trauma of the pelvic region (falls or accidents)
- Tailbone injuries
- Surgery in the area
- Exercises which can cause pressure to the area, including cycling
- Chronic constipation
How is Pudendal Neuralgia treated?
Treatment should involve a multidisciplinary team including doctors, pain management experts, mental health, and pelvic floor physical or occupational therapy.
Some sample treatment options (you and your treatment team will identify what is appropriate):
- Medical Treatment with your doctor or pain specialist that may include medication
- Physical or Occupational Therapy specializing in the pelvic floor and chronic pelvic pain
- Nerve Blocks
- Subcutaneous Infiltrations
- Trigger Point Treatment
- Lifestyle Modifications
- Surgical Nerve Decompression using the approach Trans-gluteal
How Pelvic Floor Physical and Occupational Therapy Can Help Pudendal Neuralgia
Pelvic floor physical and occupational therapy can help Pudendal Neuralgia by guiding your body in restoring the structures that are contributing to the dysfunction of your pudendal nerve. For example, if certain muscles in the pelvic floor are affecting your pudendal nerve, we will help you release them and then give you exercises and a home program to keep those structures released and healthy.
Some of the modalities used at Femina Physical Therapy can include (but are not limited to):
- Manual therapy including soft tissue massage, connective tissue manipulation, muscle energy techniques, and myofascial release to treat connective tissue dysfunction and myofascial trigger points
- Internal pelvic floor manual therapy to treat sensitive tissues, muscle spasms, trigger points, and muscle guarding that can cause issues like pain with sex, frequency and urgency of urination, and pain with bowel movements
- Therapeutic exercises to release entrapped nerves or strengthen the pelvic floor
- Biofeedback technology to help you focus on relaxing the pelvic floor
- Photobiomodulation Therapy for pain relief and encouraging cellular healing and desensitization of scar tissue adhesions, tender trigger points, and muscle spasm pain.
- Visceral mobilization (gentle massage techniques that loosen internal adhesions and restore movement to the organs including the intestine, bladder, uterus, and ovaries) to improve motility and GI organ function
- Training in self treatment techniques so you can start to manage your symptoms at home. These techniques can include self pelvic floor massage using medical dilators
- Neuromuscular re-education and autogenic relaxation to reduce chronic muscle over-activity and improve parasympathetic nervous system function, including pain management and digestion
- Patient Education and Empowerment
- Lifestyle modifications like sexual positioning, stress reduction, bladder and bowel habits, hygiene, and optimal fluid intake and dietary fiber intake to control other factors that may be contributing to pelvic floor dysfunction.
To learn more about our total body approach approach to chronic pelvic pain, contact us here.
Bartley, J., Han, E., Gupta, P., Gaines, N., Killinger, K. A., Boura, J. A., … Peters, K. M. (2018). Transvaginal Trigger Point Injections Improve Pain Scores in Women with Pelvic Floor Hypertonicity and Pelvic Pain Conditions. Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery, 1. doi:10.1097/spv.0000000000000581
Kaur J, Singh P. Pudendal Nerve Entrapment Syndrome. [Updated 2020 Mar 5]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK544272/
*Additional Edits by Heather Jeffcoat, DPT