For many years, women have reported that their pain isn’t taken seriously by doctors and other medical professionals. If you’ve been told that you should “just get over” pelvic or genital pain, know that you’re not alone. Women are underrepresented as clinical research subjects for common conditions. Studies have shown that women’s pain is often undertreated. And for generations, “female trouble” was viewed as a private matter – something to be tolerated in silence.
If you’re experiencing severe or persistent pelvic discomfort, don’t dismiss it. It’s very important to rule out serious problems like ectopic pregnancy, cancer, or infections. Unfortunately, it may be necessary to seek out multiple opinions before you find a doctor who listens. But what happens if they don’t find anything obviously wrong, and the pain persists?
There are several known chronic conditions that aren’t life-threatening but can be a major impediment to well-being. In these instances, a holistic approach to symptom management is often indicated. Physical therapy and prescription medication can help. And with the legalization of hemp and cannabis making headway, many women are beginning to explore the possibilities of CBD – the non-intoxicating cannabinoid that has been shown to have significant positive effects on pain, inflammation, and anxiety.
In this article, we’ll discuss a number of gynecological pain conditions, and whether managing symptoms with CBD may be right for you – so you can get on with life.
Vaginismus is an involuntary contraction of the muscles of the pelvic floor. It can make vaginal penetration difficult or impossible, whether it be via sexual intercourse, a tampon, or a gynecologist’s speculum. Pain varies from woman to woman and can range from mildly uncomfortable to severe. Sometimes it crops up seemingly out of nowhere, even after many pain-free years.
Anxiety is often a factor in vaginismus — which isn’t the same thing as a problem being “all in your head.” Anxiety causes very real physical symptoms that tend to cascade and build on one another, and they can actually get worse if you’re anticipating the pain and tensing up.
And other factors may come into play, such as menopause, inadequate lubrication, side effects of medication, and the aftermath of surgery.
Vulvodynia is chronic pain of the vulva – the external female genitalia – that lasts three months or longer and doesn’t have an obvious direct cause. There are two main subtypes, localized and generalized vulvodynia. The localized type results in pain in one spot, often the vestibule or vaginal opening (a condition formerly known as vulvar vestibulitis), and the generalized type is more diffused or may move around.
It’s thought that vulvodynia may result from multiple factors interacting together. Various causes could include inflammation (local or systemic), pelvic floor dysfunction, or even nerve damage.
Vulvodynia pain can be either provoked, with flareups occurring after pressure or penetration, or spontaneous, when pain occurs for no obvious reason. It’s most often described as general soreness, aching, stinging, or burning, and it may be constant, or may come and go.
Interstitial cystitis is a chronic condition causing bladder pain that can be mild, moderate or quite severe, or all of the above at different times. Symptoms can mimic the burning urination and pelvic discomfort of a urinary tract infection, but won’t respond to antibiotic treatment. Along with pain, IC can cause urinary urgency, a frequent need to urinate that may disrupt sleep, and, often, anxiety and emotional distress.
The causes of IC aren’t known. It can be found alongside other pain conditions like fibromyalgia, and some speculate that it’s triggered by autoimmune reactions like allergies or other disorders. Systemic inflammation may also be a factor.
IC can result in serious disruptions to a woman’s quality of life, and there’s no definitive cure. Strategic management of symptoms may offer some relief.
Unlike some other conditions that cause pelvic pain, endometriosis does have a known and easily determined cause. It occurs when endometrial tissue, which provides a nourishing landing pad for a fertilized egg inside the uterus, develops in places it isn’t supposed to be. This tissue is usually shed during menstruation, but when it develops on the ovaries or fallopian tubes or elsewhere in the abdominal cavity, it has nowhere to go. This triggers inflammation and scarring and can be extremely painful. Severe cramping, digestive upsets, and infertility are a few common symptoms.
Nobody knows why endometriosis happens, and although it isn’t life-threatening, there’s no known cure. Surgical solutions can provide temporary relief, though endometrial tissue tends to regrow. Symptom management is usually the only option and may involve NSAIDs or more powerful prescription painkillers, hormone therapy or, in extreme cases, ovariectomy to induce menopause.
Female genital anatomy is extremely complex, with many networks of interconnected nerves, organs and other structures working together. This complexity means that any minor disruption may cause major effects. Lifestyle stress, old or new injuries, seemingly unrelated illnesses, nerve damage, even bad posture or inadequate exercise can result in genital or generalized pelvic discomfort.
CBD has such a wide range of effects that many people claim it’s a cure-all. However, it’s important to note that CBD can’t “cure” any condition. What it can do is help to mitigate the symptoms of a number of conditions and make them more manageable, owing to its anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety, and analgesic properties.
CBD interacts with the body in a number of ways, which have to do with the endocannabinoid system – a network of neurotransmitters and their corresponding receptors, which was only discovered after scientists began to research the effects of cannabis on the body. It turns out that our bodies actually produce chemicals that bear a strong resemblance to the chemicals found in cannabis. The endocannabinoid system has many roles, including regulating pain, mood, inflammation, and the stress response.
When taken orally, used topically, or inserted as a suppository, CBD acts on your own endocannabinoid receptors to modulate and balance the endocannabinoids your body naturally produces. CBD also targets nerve receptors that help to decrease the sensation of pain, and receptors in muscles that relax tension.
Although everybody is different, and different people experience different results, CBD can have striking positive effects on pain, stress, and inflammation – the common threads among chronic pelvic and genital pain conditions.
CBD oil, tonics, and tinctures are rapidly gaining popularity as wellness supplements. Since CBD is well-tolerated, non-psychoactive, legal everywhere, and nontoxic, it’s safe and simple to experiment with the dosage that’s right for you. Look for CBD labeled as broad-spectrum. This means the CBD comes with a natural cohort of other plant-based cannabinoids – though not THC, the famous intoxicant that gets you high – that also act on your endocannabinoid system, making the CBD much more effective. When you take CBD oil, you’ll want to swish it in your mouth instead of swallowing it right away. The tissues of your mouth are much more absorptive than your digestive tract, and digestion can hamper CBD’s effectiveness.
If you want to apply CBD more directly, consider a topical. You can buy CBD oils that are specifically formulated for genital application – the CBD will target local endocannabinoid receptors, and the carrier oil will help with lubrication if dryness is a problem. Seek out products made by manufacturers that are absolutely transparent about where and how their materials are sourced; anything you’re applying to your genitals should be as pristine and organic as possible.
And for deeper pelvic pain, lower back pain, or menstrual cramps, consider a suppository. The tissues of the vagina and rectum, like the mouth, are highly absorptive, so CBD suppositories act quickly where you need relief the most. As with topicals, make sure the manufacturer is reputable and committed to best practices so you know what you’re putting in your body.
Consult with your doctor before beginning any new wellness regimen, in case it might interfere with medications you’re already taking. Experiment, and be patient with yourself – and know that it’s not “all in your head”. Nobody should have to suffer in silence. With the right tools, the journey to good health can become much easier.