Help!!! My pants are on FIRE!! Wait, what? Well, at least that’s what it feels like to a lot of people with pelvic pain. Because nerve pain can feel just like that – burning, tingling, like fire ants in your pants. In this post we are going to talk about how mediation can help.
Why is this sensation so common in people with pelvic pain? Let’s circle back to our old friend, the pudendal nerve. The pudendal nerve is special. It has nerve fibers that control how the muscles move, it regulates incoming skin sensations AND it has fibers that are linked to the fight or flight nervous system, a.k.a. the sympathetic nervous system.1
Heart pounding, breath racing and blood pressure spiking are all signs of an activated sympathetic nervous system.
Fight or flight mode is on. It’s not always a bad thing to be in fight or flight mode. It has helped us survive over the centuries,but sometimes it gets turned on and stays on,that’s when it becomes a problem. And the pudendal nerve can get triggered via a mechanical problem, such as an overuse injury, surgery, compression, etc.,2 but it can also get triggered when we are in constant fight or flight mode. (For more information on the pudendal nerve, please click here for our collection of archives on the topic).
Luckily we have an “antidote” to the sympathetic nervous system, its calming counterpart,the parasympathetic nervous system. It is the lesser known but equally as important,rest and digest part of the nervous system. Deep breathing, decreased heart rate and increased digestion are all signs the parasympathetic nervous system is in control.3 One way to activate the parasympathetic nervous system is through meditation.
Whether you are chanting the same word over and over again or being guided through a body relaxation, most styles of meditation have the same central focus – being present and deep breathing. Across gender, race and age, meditation is a research proven way to decrease the dominance of your fight or flight nervous system. One study showed that mindful meditation significantly reduced blood pressure, sympathetic nerve activity and heart rate, compared to the control group, in African-American males with kidney disease.5 Another study demonstrated that guided meditation significantly reduced heart rate, sympathetic reactivity and cortisol levels, compared to the control groups, in healthy adult males who were brand new to meditation.6 Even people that have never practiced meditation before can benefit from its positive effects. Meditation is a real, studied and effective way to reduce stress.
The verdict is still out on exactly HOW meditation really taps into the rest and digest nervous system, but one factor that contributes to the relaxation response of meditation is slow, deep breathing. Research shows that when we inhale AND when we breathe slowly, the fight or flight nervous system is inhibited.7 Slow, deep breathing is under the control of the rest and digest nervous system. Just ten minutes of slow, deep breathing significantly lowered blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate in people with hypertension.8 Breathing slowly will make you relax. So simple!
Let’s put this all together now. The pudendal nerve has branches of the fight or flight nervous system. Meditation decreases stress and sympathetic activation. Deep breathing inhibits the fight or flight system AND kicks in the rest and digest nervous system. When your pelvic floor is acting up, it will literally help to take a deep breath and meditate. Even though it might be the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain,you can help put out the fire in your pants by slowing down, breathing deeply and taking some time to meditate. It’s not “just in your head,” it’s in your nervous system.
Stop. Don’t Panic. Breathe. Meditate. Not sure how? There’s an app for that (insert eye roll). But seriously, there are several that we recommend here at PHRC, but our top FREE choices are Calm and Headspace. Give it a try and let us know what you think!
- Pelvic Pain Explained by Stephanie A. Prendergast & Elizabeth H. Rummer
- Cortisol as a Marker of Stress by A. I. Kozlov and M.A. Kozlova
- The Pelvic Floor by Beate Carriere and Cynthia Markel Feldt
- Mindfulness meditation lowers muscle sympathetic nerve activity and blood pressure in African-American males with chronic kidney disease by Jeanie Park, Robert H. Lyles, and Susan Bauer-Wu
- Effect of Meditation on Stress-Induced Changes in Cognitive Functions by Amit Mohan, MD, Ratna Sharma, PhD, and Ramesh L. Bijlani, MD, SM
- Self-Regulation of Breathing as a Primary Treatment for Anxiety by Ravinder Jerath, Molly W. Crawford, Vernon A. Barnes, Kyler Harden
- Effects of mental relaxation and slow breathing in essential hypertension by Rajeev M. Kaushik, Reshma Kaushik, Sukhdev K. Mahajan, and Vemreddi Rajesh