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the look on your face when inserting a tampon is painful
Illustration by Josh Christensen
As Ashley Broadwater was researching an article she was writing for the website Giddy on the vasovagal repsonse and why inserting a tampon is painful, she reached out to me for my opinions on the causes of and solutions for this common issue. Here is a brief synopsis of the article along with a link to the full article below.

Heather Jeffcoat, DPT

Find Out Why Inserting a Tampon is Painful

Feeling dizzy and nauseous after putting in a hygiene product? Doctors have some theories.

As mentioned throughout our website, there are a multitude of potential causes of painful penetration, some with overlapping symptoms. A proper diagnosis will always include a deep dive into the background issues that led to the condition, including both physical and emotional causes. And when these issues coincide they can lead to what is called a "vasovagal response":

A vasovagal response is when a bodily trigger causes you to faint.

For people with a sensitive cervix, this reaction is caused by the tampon touching the cervix," said Somi Javaid, M.D., a board-certified OB-GYN in Ohio and one of three founders of HerMD, a female-founded healthcare startup.

Symptoms of this type of episode include paleness, nausea, sweating and, yes, fainting. Treatment for a vasovagal episode can include trigger avoidance or medication.

If any of the above rings true, you may have what is known as a "friable cervix". Causes may include:

  • Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Vaginal atrophy
  • Hormonal imbalance

Firast things first of course, consult with your physician or gynecologist if you suspect any of the above to be the case.

Your sympathetic nervous system was engaged

When faced with imminent physical danger, the human body’s sympathetic nervous system triggers our "fight-or-flight" response. The sympathetic nervous system is a normally harmonized network of brain structures, nerves and hormones that, if thrown off balance, can result in serious complications. Click here for a full explanation of the sympathetic nervous system at LiveScience.com.

If your body perceives inserting a tampon as a threat, it will engage our sympathetic nervous system, which may produce the physical effects. Putting something inside you—especially in your vagina, where you may have experienced trauma, pain or shame around penetration—could feel foreign or nerve-wracking.

People who experience chronic pelvic pain or high levels of depression and/or anxiety are more likely to have sensitive nervous systems, too. In other words, inserting a tampon may be perceived as painful, even though it is a non-painful stimuli.

You have toxic shock syndrome

Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a less likely cause, but it's best to ascertain if you have it.

Although more rare these days than when it first hit the news in the 1980s, toxic shock syndrome is still one possible reason why inserting a tampon is painful. It has been linked to everything from glyphosate in the (non-organic) cotton used to make tampons, to exposure to dioxins and other manmade chemicals including fragrances.

It's also important to rule out toxic shock syndrome with your physician, as that can also make you feel hot due to a fever but has other potentially life-threatening symptoms of diarrhea, widespread sunburn-like rash, dizziness or fainting, headaches and bloodshot eyes.

How to keep tampon insertion from disrupting your life

Once TSS has been ruled out, to get at the root of what can help you avoid the effects of the nervous system, a team of providers may be necessary. If you experience pain, a pelvic floor therapist, pain management physician and/or acupuncturist may need to be on your team to reduce or get you out of your pain cycle. If you don't feel pain, a psychotherapist or pelvic floor physical therapist can help with anxiety and nervous system regulation.

Change the tampon you use and how you insert it

Trying different brands and/or sizes may give better results, and you might also try switching up how you insert the tampon.

We recommend inserting the tampon in a different position; for instance, laying down or sitting on the toilet and bearing down to try to make the dizziness go away. Having a fan blowing nearby may help, too.

Try 'rainbow breathing'

One essential function that can help reduce your feelings of anxiety or other unregulated nervous system effects is deep, lateral breathing, sometimes called 'rainbow breathing' in the pediatric population.

To use this breathing technique:

  • Get into a comfortable position.
  • Inhale as deeply as is comfortable for you. Feel your rib cage expand forward, to the sides and back.
  • As you inhale, reach your arms overhead, then bring them down to your sides as though you're making a rainbow with your arms.

Hopefully this article has shed some light on the causes of painful penetration and why inserting tampon is painful. Click here to read the original article at Giddy.com, and use this simple contact form if you'd like to make an appointment at one of our offices.

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I went to Heather after the birth of my third child. It was lucky, really, that I was referred to her, because my doctor had referred me to a surgeon for a possible hysterectomy or pelvic wall rebuild. Thankfully, I went to Heather before undergoing either surgery, she was able to fix the problem. She has studied extensively in women's health--even written a book about it--and was able to diagnose my problem, suggest a course of treatment (6 weeks), and then follow through with said treatment. By the end, as she said, I was as good as gold. Boy, was it worth it! Though uncomfortable to talk about, much less write about, it is worth getting the word out there. If you have painful intercourse, especially after birth or other trauma, the treatment may be as simple as Physical Therapy (with Heather, of course). I highly recommend her.

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I can’t speak highly enough of the theapists at Femina Physical Therapy and how much they have helped me grow, discover, and love my body. I had had painful sex for my entire life, and didn’t know that there was anything that could be done about it. It was at the point where my husband and I were not having sex for MONTHs, because it was just too frustrating, and I hated feeling like I was the ONLY woman out there who had this problem, especially at my age. I finally brought it up to my doctor because I was turning 40 and my husband and I were barely having enough sex to conceive. And she brought up pelvic floor, PT. I didn’t even know this was a “thing”.

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I have been going to see Heather for a while now, and I can't tell you enough how much she has improved my quality of life. Heather specializes in issues like pelvic floor, but I see her for other orthopedic issues.

I have a lot of chronic joint pain and dysfunction issues (back, hips, neck) that require that have ongoing physical therapy maintenance. The effects of my problem joints/areas overlap and interconnect with each other in complex ways, so helping me requires really having a complete understanding of the entire skeletal and muscular system. Pain does not always appear where the problem actually is, the human body is a twisty, many-layered puzzle. I have an exercise program I do at home and I am very functional, but there are just something things I need a PT to help me out with.

Read more: Testimonial by Jamie M.

Testimonial by Jamie M.

I have been going to see Heather for a while now, and I can't tell you enough how much she has improved my quality of life. Heather specializes in issues like pelvic floor, but I see her for other orthopedic issues.

I have a lot of chronic joint pain and dysfunction issues (back, hips, neck) that require that have ongoing physical therapy maintenance. The effects of my problem joints/areas overlap and interconnect with each other in complex ways, so helping me requires really having a complete understanding of the entire skeletal and muscular system. Pain does not always appear where the problem actually is, the human body is a twisty, many-layered puzzle. I have an exercise program I do at home and I am very functional, but there are just something things I need a PT to help me out with.

Read more: Testimonial by Jamie M.

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