Interstitial cystitis, or painful bladder syndrome, may be secretly causing you pelvic pain. Because of a litany of symptoms that occur as a result of interstitial cystitis, you may be contributing your pain to other conditions, such as a UTI (urinary tract infection) and treating your pain ineffectively. In this blog, we’ll break down what interstitial cystitis is, who it affects, the causes, treatment options, and more.
What is interstitial cystitis?
Interstitial cystitis can be debilitating. The pain can be mild or severe and can affect different people in varying ways. The effects of IC can include:
- Reduced bladder capacity: Interstitial cystitis can cause stiffening of the bladder wall, which allows your bladder to hold less urine.
- Lower quality of life
- Frequent urination and pain: These may interfere with social activities, work and other activities of daily life.
- Sexual intimacy problems: The frequent urination and pain may strain your personal relationships, and sexual intimacy may suffer.
- Emotional troubles: The chronic pain and interrupted sleep associated with interstitial cystitis may cause emotional stress and can lead to depression.
It is not known exactly what causes interstitial cystitis, but doctors have identified several risk factors that make it more likely for someone to develop this condition:
- People who are assigned female at birth are five times more likely to develop IC than people who are assigned male at birth.
- If you have another chronic pain disorder you may be at a higher risk to develop IC.
- Interstitial cystitis is most commonly diagnosed when a patient is in their 30s or older.
Treatment options for folx with interstitial cystitis:
Because there is not a lot of information about what causes it, treatment of IC may be difficult. However, you can always treat the symptoms:
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatories such as acetaminophen, naproxen, or ibuprofen
- Use stretches and active mobilizations
- Make lifestyle changes (diet, exercise, stress, and medications can all be triggers for flare ups)
- Get pelvic floor physical therapy – a pelvic floor physical therapist can tailor a PT regimen to your specific symptoms and dysfunctions
- Use physical therapy products
Products to help with symptoms of interstitial cystitis:
A TENS unit, or transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation, utilizes electricity to block the pain signals from getting to our brain. This is referred to as “gate control theory.”
TENS 7000 says: “The TENS unit sends comfortable stim impulses through the skin that stimulates the nerve in the treatment area, acting as an electric massager, and calming the nerve. Treatment can be given on demand or via timed therapy sessions up to 60 minutes.”
I love this particular unit because it’s highly customizable and affordable. Other units on the market rely on presets; the TENS 7000 allows you to choose a mode, wave length, frequency, intensity, and duration and allows for a two or four pad placement, which can be put over the nerves that serve the bladder, or even over the bladder itself. Great for reducing IC related pains!
Research shows that using a TENS Unit can help your body release hormones that help to decrease, or even eliminate, pain.
I love teaching patients how to apply this machine to themselves, and I’ve seen amazing benefits! Patients who have used a TENS Unit have returned to work, or participate in daily activities that would have otherwise been impossible to them due to the pain they were experiencing from interstitial cystitis.
Dealing with interstitial cystitis requires being able to easily access items that help to decrease pain and maximize comfort. Most individuals with interstitial cystitis, in my experience, are very busy, high achievers and they oftentimes do not want others to know that they are struggling.
The Nyssa uterine reusable ice/heat pack allows for discrete application of either ice or heat directly over the bladder. I like to recommend getting a few of these packs so that you can have one in the freezer ready and waiting for you. This product is a must have for those who want to be able to continue to go about their normal routines, and not be stuck to a chair, plugged into a wall with a traditional heating pad.
The book “The Interstitial Cystitis Solution” is a must read for all of my patients with interstitial cystitis. Dr. Nicole Cozean is an absolute phenom in the pelvic floor world and has personally mentored me in the later half of my career.
What I love about this book is that it is written by a doctor of physical therapy who has spent years successfully treating patients with interstitial cystitis. She has taken her successful treatment strategies and real world guidance and laid the information out in an easy to follow, evidence based plan for patients to be able to access healing opportunities at home.
Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy can help
IC pain doesn’t have to control your life. As listed above, a pelvic floor physical therapist can create a plan of care to help you overcome the painful symptoms of interstitial cystitis. If you’re ready to take the first step to recovery, I’m happy to help! I offer remote, over the phone discovery calls where we can take a deep dive into your pelvic floor dysfunctions and find the best route for your pelvic floor journey.
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