What is the least talked about pain in the human body? Without doubt pudendal nerve pain.
Even though pudendal pain can be extremely debilitating, it’s often something that people are embarrassed to discuss with their doctor – until the pain gets intolerable.
Good information on pudendal pain is hard to find because the full-blown version of the condition is relatively rare – as far as nerve pains go.
In this article you’re going to learn
- What pudendal nerve pain is
- What the symptoms are
- What common treatments are available
And most importantly you’re going to read about a different view of pudendal nerve pain that you might find helpful if you’re suffering with this issue and you haven’t found a solution yet.
There are a group of people who are aware of the unique needs of pudendal nerve pain sufferers, and you’re going to learn how to find them.
You can read an expanded and updated version of this article which gets into the subtle differences between pelvic floor pain and pudendal neuralgia/pudedenal nerve pain by reading these articles:
(This video discusses the successful resolution of pelvic floor pain in three different male patients.)
Pudendal Nerve Pain defined
Pudendal nerve pain is caused by injury to the pudendal nerve, which is located in the pelvic area. This condition has varied symptoms and has several causes, and can happen in both women and men. It’s sometimes called pudendal neuralgia. Neuralgia meaning “nerve inflammation and pain.”
Depending on the cause, treatment for pudendal nerve pain can range from conservative measures to surgery. We will get into what that means in the treatment section below.
What is Pudendal Nerve Pain?
Pudendal nerve pain is the term for discomfort or pain caused by issues in the pudendal nerve. The pudendal nerve is a branch off of the bottom of your nerve system called the sacral plexus.
The pelvic region actually has two branches of the pudendal nerve, which controls muscles responsible for bowel movement and urination, and sensation in the genitals and perineum. The two, smaller branches have other names. To keep it simple let’s just call it all pudendal.
(FYI, the perineum is that important but not often mentioned region between the base of genitalia and the opening of the anus.)
Most women who have been pregnant and given birth will be very familiar with the perineum. But many men will not, unless they have this sort of pain. Or they have ever ridden a bicycle or motorcycle long distance.
Any kind of compression, swelling or trauma to the pudendal nerve can elicit pain. Sometimes this can be called pudendal nerve entrapment, and it happens when the nerve is compressed by adjacent structures and cause discomfort…Just like the sciatic nerve can be entrapped – sometimes causing sciatica. And just like the ulnar nerve can become entrapped in the elbow, sometimes causing a palsy or pain the hand.
On the other hand, if you have pudendal nerve pain, no one would really know where exactly the nerve is getting “trapped” unless they cut you open and identified some area where a muscle, ligament, or maybe a blood vessel or some other structure was putting direct pressure on the nerve.
What are the symptoms of pudendal nerve pain?
Pudendal nerve pain originates from the nerve itself. Thus, it can cause different pain sensations, ranging from burning, deep ache to electrical shock-like discomfort. The area may also be highly sensitive to pressure or have pronounced prolonged response to pain.
These symptoms may occur spontaneously or after doing things like sitting or straining.
Pudendal nerve pain is often embarrassing, not just for its location, but what the nerve inflammation can do to the body’s other functions, related to sex, urination, and bowel movements.
Pudendal nerve pain can often go together with by urination problems, like hesitancy, frequency and urgency. It can also cause constipation and painful bowel movements.
Because the pudendal nerve is responsible for sensation in the genitals, there may be numbness in the penis or vagina, and men may experience problems achieving erection and ejaculation.
Sometimes the electrical shock-like sensations can also strike the genitals, leading to a odd and painful sensations, especially during sex.
What is believed to cause pudendal nerve issues?
Conditions that cause pressure, trauma or swelling in the pelvic area can cause symptoms of pudendal nerve pain. This explains why pudendal nerve pain is common among cyclists and pregnant women.
Among cyclists, crotch pain associated with riding bicycles is actually a symptom of pudendal nerve pain. Accidents that cause trauma to the pelvic region also causes pudendal nerve pain, like a pelvic fracture for example.
Pudendal nerve pain can also be caused by surgery in the pelvic area. Sometimes, surgical operation cause swelling, or rarely, unintended trauma to the pudendal nerve and causing symptoms.
What are the current medical treatments for pudendal nerve pain?
Diagnosis can be a bit tricky with this form of nerve pain because there are several conditions that have similar symptoms.
Diagnosis of muscle, nerve, and spine problems tend to be tricky in general, because many physicians don’t have enough training to identify the issue completely. Specialists rely on imaging which can be helpful in some situations, but can also create a source of frustration because they
- May identify a “problem” that isn’t causing the pain – leading to a disease chase that doesn’t actually help the patient get what he or she wants
- May be “medically normal” – which gives the patient the impression there is nothing wrong when the doctor isn’t actually looking for a mechanical problem
Any condition that happens in the pelvis often has multiple symptoms that overlap with other conditions. Because the pelvis is large, complex, and has a range of different organs and tissue, many people with pudendal nerve pain even struggle to get a name for what they are experiencing.
Usually if no other culprit can be found for the pain, then pudendal nerve pain may be the “I give up” diagnosis.
As in, you have a pelvic pain that doesn’t go away? Pudendal nerve pain.
Occasionally this form of pain in females will be diagnosed as a vulvodynia – or pain of the female genitals – again, often without a real cause identified.
All conservative treatments are going to attempt to relieve the mechanical pressure on the pudendal nerve. For most that will start with lifestyle modifications.
So for some instances of pudendal pain, it’s just a temporary inconvenience that’s resolved by purchasing a new bicycle saddle, or waiting until the pregnancy is over.
Other doctors may advise using ergonomic devices like specialized bike saddles, and avoiding prolonged periods of sitting, especially on the toilet.
Avoiding straining when urinating or opening the bowels can help reduce exacerbation of symptoms – so supplements or over the counter approaches to making bowel movements easier may be recommended.
Pharmaceutical choices and pudendal nerve pain
Depending on the cause, the doctor may prescribe medicines to address pudendal nerve pain such as gabapentin and pregabalin.
Antidepressants like amitriptyline and anticonvulsants such as carbamazepine and sodium valproate also work to relieve nerve pain. If pudendal nerve pain is caused by pressure, the doctor may inject steroids in an attempt relieve inflammation and address symptoms.
Surgery is considered the last option for pudendal nerve pain because it requires general anesthesia and may not always produce intended results. Especially if the source of the pudendal nerve compression is never identified before the surgery.
Some people just have an aversion to taking medications long term, or doing exploratory surgery, so they may want to consider some other kinds of care.
The other conservative options in resolving pudendal nerve pain
The following options are based on the idea that a lot of nerve pain has a mechanical cause. Taking medications without addressing the mechanical cause is an exercise in futility for many patients.
If fixing mechanical problems in the pelvis can lead to less sciatica pain, for example, then why not pudendal pain? True, it’s a smaller nerve in a different location, but the principle still applies.
Chiropractic and upper cervical care
Chiropractic care aims to relieve the mechanical and nerve system distortion created by misalignment in the spinal column, including misalignment of the pelvis.
There are several known and trusted chiropractic approaches to examining the pelvis that can be helpful in pudendal nerve pain and other pains of the hips and pelvis.
I recommend chiropractors who actually take an x-ray of the pelvis and draw lines on what they are seeing. Indiscriminate manual manipulation of the pelvis may not be helpful for tough cases of sciatica and pudendal nerve pain.
Chiropractic corrections of pelvic imbalance can take pressure off the nerve roots of the sacral plexus – allowing relief to flow further down the chain into the pudendal nerve.
That said, there is a fact of physiology that must be addressed in many cases. Often pelvic problems are better resolved by correcting the unhealthy alignment of the neck. It is counter-intuitive, but the short reason is that posture control centers are in the neck, and the pelvis may never full relax and take pressure off the pudendal nerve until the neck is corrected.
(If you need to see “proof” of the relationship between your neck and your pelvis, then please take a look at these articles:
- Sciatica resolved through correction of the neck
- Resolution of stomach pain and headaches through correction of the neck
I find that upper cervical chiropractors who have significant post graduate education in one of the several upper cervical techniques are the best place to get upper cervical corrections.
Physical therapy – rehabilitation of the pelvic floor muscles
The kind of physical therapy that is focused on strengthening muscles may not be helpful in the first phase of addressing pudendal nerve pain. Strengthening your core is great for the long term but not necessarily helpful in freeing a trapped pudendal nerve.
Instead, seek a physical therapist who has advanced training and certification in pelvic floor rehabilitation and release. In other words, you will be getting more muscle trigger point work and less exercise therapy, or a different kind of exercise rehabilitation depending on if the muscles of the pelvis floor are more or less tight.
Most of the people practicing physical therapy this way are physical therapists, but some chiropractors practice this way as well, depending on regulations in their state.
Keep in mind that this form of rehabilitation often requires muscular release of muscles at the bottom of the pelvis using the practitioners fingers. Sometimes this requires the practitioner to access the muscle by pressing through the the wall of the vagina or the rectum.
In other words, it’s not surgery but it can feel invasive for some. So, ask for someone with advanced training in the pelvic floor if you are going to seek physical therapy. As that practitioner will be able to do the necessary internal work through the vagina walls or through the rectum with less discomfort.
Other forms of body work
Some other forms of body work may also unlock the pelvis in a way that helps or relieves pudendal nerve pain, including cranial sacral therapy.
Most license body workers (like licensed massage therapists, or physical therapy assistants) will not have a clearance that allows them to release the muscles internally – so if that is necessary – you may have to pair therapeutic massage with pelvic floor physical therapy.
How would I do it as an upper cervical chiropractor?
I am an upper cervical chiropractor who has seen major improvement in pelvic nerve issues, including sciatica and pudendal nerve pain. Through correcting the neck alone. Even in patients who did not respond to regular chiropractic care, physical therapy, and massage…So my experience come from what I know.
If I was facing pudendal nerve pain, here is how I would handle it.
- Get the neck corrected from an upper cervical chiropractor to allow the pelvis to relax, and take mechanical stress of the nerve system
- Clean up any issues in the pelvis with pelvic chiropractic adjustments and do internal and external muscle rehabilitation with physical therapy
- Support long term musculature on the outside with therapeutic massage and cranial sacral work from a body worker
Finally, keep in mind any pain and problems related to the digestive tract and sexual organs can and will have an emotional component as well and complete healing may not be possible without a process that takes into account feelings of fear, safety, sexuality, and violations around these issues.
If you’re in the Detroit-Metro area and you want a second opinion on your pudendal nerve pain, then please contact me via this website to set up a 15 minute conversation about your concerns.