THE WOMAN, A LAWYER IN her 30s, was desperate when she went to New York City-based physical therapist Isa Herrera. The patient, Nancy (U.S. News is not identifying the woman by her real or full name to protect her privacy) was suffering from terrible pelvic pain while sitting and when she had sexual intercourse – and her wedding was a few months away.
Nancy’s doctor had given her injections of the numbing agent lidocaine in her pelvis. Nancy had also applied lidocaine on the labia of her vagina. On the advice of her doctor, the woman was on eight medications, including OxyContin, the powerful opioid painkiller. But the prescription drugmade her constipated and didn’t relieve her pain, Herrera says.
Nancy is suffering from pelvic floor dysfunction, a group of conditions, also known as pelvic floor disorders, that affect the pelvic floor, says Dr. R. Mark Ellerkmann, director of urogynecology, Weinberg Center for Women’s Health and Medicine at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. (A urogynecologist is an obstetrician-gynecologist who’s completed specialized training in treating women with pelvic floor disorders.) About 25 percent of women age 20 or older suffer with a pelvic floor disorder or disorders, he says. The ratio of women who suffer from a pelvic floor disorder goes up with age. For example, about 40 percent of women between ages 40 and 50 have pelvic floor dysfunction, and the figure rises to more than 50 percent for women age 60 and above, says Dr. Felicia L. Lane, division director of the female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery fellowship program and vice chair, department of obstetrics and gynecology at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange, California. Men suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction at a lower rate, experts say.