Clients never mention it, but occasionally in more personal conversations someone will bring it up: chronic pain can interfere with intimate relationships.
Most clients would not mention it to their massage therapist and it is not within our scope of practice to treat. However, since February is the month of Valentine's Day, I thought it would be an appropriate time to bring up a pain topic that may hurt your love, is rarely discussed, that many massage therapists may not know exists, and that many people may suffer with silently without seeking help or getting proper treatment.
Common chronic pain problems can hurt your love.
Chronic low back pain and chronic headaches are two common pain problems that can interfere in intimate relationships. It's hard to feel romantic when your head hurts and low back pain may make physical intimacy difficult. When chronic pain interferes with your love life, it can erode the closeness of your relationship. This is just one of many reasons why chronic pain should be treated and not just assumed to be an inevitable part of life. The deterioration of the quality of one's life can be far-reaching.
Many decades ago I suffered from chronic back pain. In my efforts to get rid of it, I took a class sponsored by the YMCA called "The Y's Way to a Healthy Back." A book which accompanied the course contained a chapter that described, with simple line drawings that were tasteful and inoffensive, some positions for physical intimacy that were usually less stressful for the person with low back pain. I've never seen the subject treated before or since, but I thought it was useful and encouraging. These days, the internet can provide access to some good sources of information, such as the Mayo Clinic website. Living with chronic pain is difficult enough without having to suffer the loss of one's love life, and possibly the loss of a relationship.
Massage therapy has been shown to be helpful for both headaches and low back pain and may be part of an individual's program to rehabilitate their pain. It is not necessary for the client to mention very personal details about how chronic pain may affect their life. It is sufficient to inform the therapist about the pain condition itself and more general ways in which it interferes with activities of daily life. If one has not yet been evaluated by a physician, that should always be done when pain becomes chronic. If physical therapy is recommended, massage therapy may be a useful adjunct. If medications are prescribed that have an adverse effect on intimate relations, talk to your doctor. Don't give up. Work together with your doctor, your partner, your physical therapist, counselor, to find a solution so you can reclaim your life.
Chronic Pelvic Pain - The Silent Pain
It's a subject seldom discussed, not even among best of friends, but many people silently live with the discomfort and stress of chronic pelvic pain. Until a few years ago, I had never heard of it. One day a female client who was in town for a few weeks found her way to my office. She had suffered from chronic pelvic pain for several years without finding successful treatment. Eventually, through her persistence, she found a doctor who specialized in treating chronic pelvic pain and, although she still had pain, she was beginning to get a reduction in pain and intermittent relief for the first time. She had also been working with a physical therapist who was trained to treat pelvic pain and during her traveling she got massage as a way to continue to help manage her pain.
While it is outside the scope of practice for massage therapists to directly treat pelvic pain, this client found that the general relaxation was helpful and specific attention to surrounding areas - abdomen, low back, hips, and upper legs - seemed to help. I was fortunate that this client was knowledgeable about her condition and could educate me so that I could be of better help to her. I was surprised that in all the years of seeing clients, taking classes focussed on pain rehabilitation, and discussions with colleagues, that I'd never heard of chronic pelvic pain as a condition. The client recommended a book, which I promptly ordered from my library, and I began to look for credible sources of information on the internet. I later recalled conversations I'd had with two individuals in my personal life who had discussed how chronic pelvic pain had caused serious problems in their relationships. I wondered how common this condition might be?
I found that chronic pelvic pain was surprisingly common in women. It is less common in men but, possibly because of this, some men may find it difficult to find a physician who can help them. Chronic pelvic pain can have many causes; the Mayo Clinic website lists over twenty conditions that can cause chronic pelvic pain.
If you suffer from chronic pelvic pain, the first thing to do is to see your doctor. If treatment by your primary care physician is not yielding results, ask for a referral to a specialist. In some areas, it may take some time before you can find a physician who can help you with your condition.
I would not propose massage therapy as an answer to chronic pelvic pain, but massage therapy may be useful in managing the stress that accompanies living with a difficult chronic pain problem. Treating chronic pelvic pain is often best accomplished with an interdisciplinary approach, which may include medical intervention, physical therapy, pain education, and even counseling.
If you live with pain, see your doctor and talk to them about it. Work with them to find out if there are untreated conditions that may be causing your pain and what can be done about them. Learn what you can about your condition and what steps you can take to help regain control of your life. Don't let chronic pain hurt your love.
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