Paradoxical Relaxation and the Treatment of Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome

Paradoxical Relaxation and the Treatment of Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome

In a recent New York Times article (see excerpt below), the usefulness of concentration as an integral part of a discussion of mindfulness is discussed. The ability to concentrate is not a subject that is often discussed in the psychological literature on pain reduction; thus, this article is a welcome addition to the narrative of what we consider a critical issue in dealing successfully with chronic pelvic pain.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tWwgnT_8x8[/embed]

It has become clear over the last decade that nervous system arousal is a central issue to treat in those suffering from chronic pelvic pain syndromes. Gevirtz and Hubbard have convincingly shown emotional arousal raises the level of electrical activity in pain referring trigger points in those with myofascial-related pain. There have been recent studies evaluating the usefulness of hypnosis and cognitive therapy to deal with nervous system arousal, but it has been our observation that psychotherapy by itself has little effect on modulating or reducing chronic pelvic pain. Traditional methods of cognitive therapy help patients recognize their dysfunctional thinking and analyze distorted thoughts in order to discard them. In our work using the Wise-Anderson Protocol over the last 18 years, we have observed that these methods are not greatly helpful when patients’ pain goes on unabated and they remain helpless to do anything about it.

The method of Paradoxical Relaxation used in the Wise-Anderson Protocol is one of the main ingredients we use to help those with pelvic pain lower their autonomic nervous system arousal. Many of our patients who become competent in this methodology commonly report that they can significantly reduce their pain using this relaxation method.

Paradoxical Relaxation is the practice of focusing attention on sensation rather than mental thought. The aim is to take attention away from all thought—not analyze any of it. While it is sometimes useful to analyze dysfunctional thinking, that is not the aim of Paradoxical Relaxation. If someone is helpless to stop their chronic pain, it doesn’t matter how much analysis of dysfunctional thinking is done because the inability to affect the pain is the main driver of the sense of helplessness and disempowerment.

In the Paradoxical Relaxation session, the nervous system is deliberately deprived of the symbolic stimuli that cause it to become aroused. This break in arousal can help break a flare up of symptoms and moves in the direction of downwardly resetting the nervous system ‘idle speed.’

The most profound relaxation occurs when attention is controlled and kept focused in sensation. Just as the deepest sleep is dreamless (non-REM) sleep, relaxation that is void of thinking produces the deepest level of relaxation. This type of deep relaxation allows for an up-regulated nervous system to quiet down. The idea of relaxation depending on the control of attention rather than the releasing of such control is counter-intuitive, yet over the years patients using Paradoxical Relaxation in the Wise-Anderson Protocol have experienced the ability to control attention, to reduce pain, and ‘down regulate’ the nervous system.

Training attention to stay focused is a discipline that, as the New York Times article we quote below understands, has many benefits. In our work with pelvic pain, calming down nervous arousal to reduce pain is the most important of these benefits.

Excerpt from “The Power of Concentration” by Maria Konnikova in the New York Times on December 16, 2012.

The Power of Concentration

By MARIA KONNIKOVA

December 16, 2012

“MEDITATION and mindfulness: the words conjure images of yoga retreats and Buddhist monks. But perhaps they should evoke a very different picture: a man in a deerstalker, puffing away at a curved pipe, Mr. Sherlock Holmes himself. The world’s greatest fictional detective is someone who knows the value of concentration, of “throwing his brain out of action,” as Dr. Watson puts it. He is the quintessential unitasker in a multitasking world…

In 2011, researchers from the University of Wisconsin demonstrated that daily meditation-like thought could shift frontal brain activity toward a pattern that is associated with what cognitive scientists call positive, approach-oriented emotional states — states that make us more likely to engage the world rather than to withdraw from it.

Participants were instructed to relax with their eyes closed, focus on their breathing, and acknowledge and release any random thoughts that might arise. Then they had the option of receiving nine 30-minute meditation training sessions over the next five weeks. When they were tested a second time, their neural activation patterns had undergone a striking leftward shift in frontal asymmetry — even when their practice and training averaged only 5 to 16 minutes a day.

…But mindfulness goes beyond improving emotion regulation.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Rectal Pain, Anal Fissures, Hemorrhoids, Constipation and Other Manifestations of Headaches in the Pelvis

Are you experiencing the symptoms of rectal pain, anal fissures, hemorrhoids, or constipation?

It is important to have a clear understanding on symptoms for hemorrhoids, rectal pain, anal fissures and constipation. At some time or another, many people find a little blood in their stool usually after a particularly hard bowel movement and can become confused and upset at such an event. At other times, alarmed individuals go to the doctor complaining of rectal pain after a bowel movement with no apparent blood in the stool. Often the doctor gives the diagnosis of anal fissure or hemorrhoid to these complaints. To most, this can sound foreboding. In fact, an anal fissure is like a paper cut in the internal anal sphincter. Hemorrhoids constitute another condition that is painful and sometimes the source of blood in the stool. A hemorrhoid is a kind of varicose vein in the anus.

One French study showed that one-third of women had hemorrhoids or anal fissures after childbirth. One to ten million people in North America suffers from hemorrhoids symptoms. Both of these conditions are common in both men and women. These conditions are often related to constipation and diarrhea. Constipation has been related to chronic tension in the pelvic muscles in adults and recently in a study at the Mayo Clinic in refractory constipation in children.

The colon and rectum are structures that operate together in the activity of the evacuation of stool. Normal, non constipative bowel function involves the reflex relaxation of the external anal sphincters the pelvic floor muscles (along with sufficient tone in the colon) to allow the reflex of the sense of urgency with the filling of the rectum for fecal matter in the bowel to pass through the anal canal. Chronic tension in the bowel and pelvic floor triggered by anxiety can commonly result in constipation.

It is understood by many of researchers that the anal fissure is what is called an ‘ischemic ulcer’. Ischemia is a condition in which there is a significant reduction in blood flow to an area. The current understanding about anal fissures is that because there is elevated tension, the blood flow in the anal sphincter is reduced, thereby impairing the tissue. It becomes fragile and vulnerable to injury from a hard bowel movement or from the pressure of bearing down during defecation.

Diet has clearly been implicated in the development of the anal fissure. Cow milk consumption has been associated with chronic constipation and anal fissures in infants and children. Interestingly, a shorter duration of breastfeeding and early bottle feeding of cow’s milk are also suspected to play a role in early incidences of anal fissures in infants and young children. A Danish study showed a significant relationship between the absence of raw fruits, vegetables and whole grains and anal fissures. Furthermore, frequent consumption of white bread, sauces thickened with roux, and bacon and sausages increased the risk of anal fissures. British researchers found that hemorrhoids and anal fissures were much more likely to occur when one did not eat breakfast.

While most anal fissures and hemorrhoids resolve themselves after they flare up, some colorectal surgeons lean toward a procedure or surgery. The hope is that they will treat the rectal pain associated with hemorrhoids and anal fissures. We have seen patients who are anxious about their rectal pain easily talked into an aggressive treatment of the fissure or hemorrhoid involving surgery.

It is generally agreed that the source of the anal fissure in large part involves a chronically tightened internal anal sphincter. Surgery, the procedure of stretching or dilating the anal sphincter under anesthesia, and the application of topical agents are all aimed at relaxing the anal sphincter. The concept of surgery for anal fissures is based on the peculiar idea that cutting the sphincter is the best way to reduce the tone, tension, and spasm in the anal sphincter. While surgery is often successful, there is a risk of short term and sometimes long term fecal incontinence.

This conventional medical treatment of rectal pain, anal fissures, hemorrhoids, and constipation tends to ignore the relationship between mind and body. Like the conventional treatment of prostatitis, the relationship of a person’s mindset, level of relaxation during bowel movements, and management of stress is almost entirely ignored in the literature on the anal fissure. Instead, there is a narrow focus on immediately reducing symptoms. Procedures, surgery, laxatives and other medications are the usual options for patients suffering from rectal pain and other conditions. Like in the treatment of prostatitis, there is little literature on the connection or treatment of body and mind in the anal fissure, hemorrhoid or in problems of constipation.

The focus on a surgical intervention for rectal pain, anal fissures, or hemorrhoids is an expression of a viewpoint that sees no value and sees no intelligence in the symptoms of someone with such a condition. Instead of seeing the symptom of an anal fissure, for example, as the way in which one’s body is complaining of the diet, stress, bowel habits and anxiety, conventional treatment sees the symptom of blood in the stool, rectal pain, or abdominal pain as something that needs to be stopped. No regard is shown in the big picture of a person’s life and how symptoms are a response to this big picture. As we have said elsewhere, it is our view that the symptom is the way our bodies are trying to communicate. If we simply try to refuse to understand the message because we don’t understand the body’s language, we needlessly suffer and don’t deal with the root problem prompting the symptom. We continue to suffer.

In the large majority of cases, it is the chronic tension in the pelvic floor, including the anal sphincter, usually combined with diet and anxiety that leads to rectal pain, anal fissures, hemorrhoids, and constipation. In a word, a person’s mind and body and lifestyle are involved in the creation and perpetuation of these conditions.

Squatting vs. sitting during defecation as way of helping the relaxation of the pelvic floor

Most people throughout history have squatted when evacuating their bowels. The modern toilet is relatively new in the history of mankind and has been adopted as a civilized bathroom appliance. The perennial hole in the ground over which one squatted to defecate is universally considered primitive. A website devoted to promoting the advantages of squatting during defecation writes about the history of the modern toilet:

“Human beings have always used the squatting position for elimination. Infants of every culture instinctively adopt this posture to relieve themselves. Although it may seem strange to someone who has spent his entire life deprived of the experience, this is the way the body was designed to function.

The modern chair-like toilet, on the other hand, is a relatively recent innovation. It first became popular in Western Europe less than two centuries ago, largely by coincidence. Invented in England by a cabinet maker and a plumber, neither of whom had any knowledge of physiology, it was installed in the first dwellings to use indoor plumbing. The “porcelain throne” was quickly imitated, as the sitting posture seemed more “dignified” – more suited to aristocrats than the method used by the natives in the colonies.

Two other influences also favored the adoption of this new water closet. One was the headlong rush to modernize all existing sanitation facilities (which were, in fact, non-existent.) The public assumed that all the benefits of modern plumbing required the use of the seat-like toilet since it was the only one having the proper fittings to connect to the pipes. This assumption was incorrect since toilets with all the same flushing capabilities could be (and have since been) designed to be used in the squatting position.

Secondly, in nineteenth-century Britain, any open discussion of this subject was considered most improper. Those who felt uncomfortable using a posture for evacuation that had nothing to do with human anatomy were forced to keep silent. How could they denounce the toilet used by Queen Victoria herself? (Hers was gold-plated.)

So, like the Emperor’s New Clothes, the water closet was tacitly accepted. The general discomfort felt by the population was indicated by the popularity of “squatting stools” sold in the famous Harrods of London. These footstools elevated one’s feet while in the sitting position to bring the knees closer to the chest – a crude attempt to imitate squatting.

The rest of Western Europe, as well as Australia and North America, did not want to appear less civilized than Great Britain, whose vast empire at the time made it the most powerful country on Earth. So, within a few decades, most of the industrialized world had adopted ‘The Emperor’s New Throne.’

A hundred and fifty years ago, no one could have predicted the effect of this change on the health of the population. But today, many physicians blame the modern commode for the high incidence of a number of serious diseases. Compared to the rest of the world, people in westernized countries have much higher rates of appendicitis, hemorrhoids, colon cancer, prostate cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.”

There is compelling evidence that sitting on the toilet to evacuate the bowels is inferior to squatting in a number of ways. Squatting tends to relax the puborectalis muscle which is essential in defecation. It tends to reduce or eliminate the need to strain and bear down. A long study showed improvement or elimination or hemorrhoids as the result of squatting during defecation. Doing the ‘valsalva maneuver’ in which one bears down to initiate defecation while holding one’s breath have been known to cause a fatal heart attack or sometimes episodes of atrial fibrillation because such a maneuver increases pressure in the thorax and interferes with venous blood returning to the heart. The heart rate can significantly drop during this activity. Defecating while squatting can reduce the need to bear down and set this cycle in motion.

The modern toilet makes squatting during defecation a little problematic as it is made for sitting. Nevertheless, with a little innovativeness, it is possible to squat on a toilet. A device is sold that allows one to easily squat during defecation. When pelvic pain also involves rectal pain, anal fissures, hemorrhoids, or constipation, the issue of integrating squatting during defecation might well be considered.

We would like to see research on a non-invasive and self-administered treatment of both anal fissures and hemorrhoids and certain types of chronic constipation following our protocol for pelvic pain with some modifications. This would involve the rehabilitation of a very tight pelvic floor using Trigger Point Release, modifying the habit of tightening the pelvic muscles habitually under stress and during defecation and a focus on reducing anxiety producing thinking that prompts increased and habitual levels of anxiety. Squatting during defecation should strongly be considered as part of the protocol. While there is little research done on the treatment of these kinds of conditions using this perspective, we strongly support an independent study evaluating the efficacy of a modified Stanford protocol for the treatment of rectal pain, anal fissures, hemorrhoids, and certain kinds of constipation.

Essays on Pelvic Pain

Essays on Pelvic Pain

WHY INTRAPELVIC BIOFEEDBACK MEASUREMENT IS NOT A RELIABLE INDICATOR OF THE USEFULNESS OF THE STANFORD PROTOCOL AND THE ISSUE OF THE THERAPEUTIC USEFULNESS OF PELVIC FLOOR BIOFEEDBACK

David Wise, PhD

I am responding to a request for a comment about the usefulness of INTRAPELVIC biofeedback measurements in determining if pelvic pain is a tension disorder and appropriate for the Stanford Protocol. My short answer is that electromyographic measurement of the anal sphincter with a biofeedback anal probe, used alone, is an unreliable measure of what is going on inside the pelvic floor. Unremarkable readings of the anal sphincter should not be used to rule out tension disorder prostatitis and pelvic pain nor to dismiss the appropriateness of a treatment of the Stanford protocol.

Here is the longer answer. In my own case, when I was symptomatic, I did an hour or two of pelvic floor biofeedback on a daily basis for a year. After many months of diligent practice, my resting anal sphincter tone was a remarkable zero after about 15 minutes of relaxation. And I was very dismayed to find that I was still in pain at the moment that the anal probe registered zero. I was also disappointed as a clinician experienced in the successful use of biofeedback for other problems. I discovered that the biofeedback measurement seemed to indicate (erroneously) that tension was not a central problem in my pelvic pain.

I did not understand then what I understand now – the electrical activity in the anal sphincter is, for the most part, the only area that the anal biofeedback sensor measures. Often this says very little about what is going on with the other 20 other muscles within the pelvic floor. Furthermore, the biofeedback sensor measures dynamic muscle tension, but not chronically shortened tissue without elevated tone. It is possible to have a relaxed anal sphincter and have pelvic floor trigger points. In this case, elevated tone and active trigger points inside the pelvic floor are not reflected in the anal sphincter measurements.

Shortened contracted tissue inside the pelvic floor, symptom-recreating trigger points when palpated, and a tension-anxiety-pain cycle are the culprits in most people with pelvic pain that we successfully treat (which can sometimes include a chronically tight anal sphincter). We consider these factors criteria for diagnosis. For example, in my experience at Stanford, people with levator ani syndrome almost always have an entirely normal resting anal sphincter tone while palpating the painful trigger points on the levator ani muscle. This is excruciatingly painful. Resolving those trigger points and relaxing the inside of the pelvic floor can resolve this pain without much change in the measurement of the tone of the anal sphincter before or after treatment.

On our website, we have video clips of an important study replicated many times. In it, we demonstrate that at rest, the electrical activity inside a trigger point in the trapezius, monitored by a needle electromyographic electrode, is quite high. At the same time, the electrical activity of the tissue less than an inch away from this elevated electrical activity is essentially electrically silent. If you used a regular biofeedback sensor to measure the general tone of the trapezius, you may well find nothing remarkable. Yet to rely on this information is entirely misleading and would incline you to miss the treatment that could substantially reduce or abate the pain and dysfunction coming from the active trigger point.

The bottom line is that in my experience, electrical measurement of the anal sphincter (or the opening of the vagina) used alone, is often a poor measure of what is going on inside the pelvic floor. While I believe biofeedback is remarkably successful for many other disorders and is one of the treatments of choice for urinary incontinence and vulvar pain, I am unimpressed with the usefulness of biofeedback in treating most male pelvic pain.

The best gauge of the usefulness of the Stanford protocol that treats the pelvic pain of neuromuscular origin is a thorough examination of the pelvic floor for trigger points that recreate symptoms and palpating for tightened and restricted muscles inside the pelvic floor. This must be done by someone with a significant amount of experience and with the kind of myofascial Trigger Point Release that we use. An inexperienced person will miss all this and I have seen many times that even physical therapists who specialize in treating pelvic pain miss trigger points referring the symptoms inside the pelvis. This is one reason why we have offered training for physical therapists who treat male pelvic pain.

We sometimes find it useful when there is a high pelvic floor resting tone because it provides an objective marker that we can compare readings to after the patient has used the Stanford protocol. The idea that pelvic floor biofeedback measurements are a reliable test of whether pelvic pain is a tension disorder represents a misunderstanding of the problem and should not be relied on, especially when the readings are normal. Pelvic floor electromyographic measurement monitoring the anal sphincter is one of those medical tests where a positive finding may mean something and point toward the proper therapy and a negative result doesn’t prove anything.

Pelvic Pain Syndrome: An Address to the National Institute of Health

The following is an address by Dr. Wise to the National Institutes of Health

(NOTE: Portions of this transcript have been edited for clarification.) 

The goal of the Wise-Anderson Protocol is to enable the patients to reduce and/or resolve symptoms without dependency on drugs or others to do so for them.

David Wise, PhD
Plenary address to the
National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Scientific Workshop on Prostatitis/Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndromes
Baltimore, Maryland
October 21, 2005

Introduction

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to discuss the Wise-Anderson Protocol at this National Institutes of the Health-sponsored scientific meeting on Prostatitis/Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome.

How I became involved in treating chronic pelvic pain syndrome.

I happened to have had the unusual experience of the slow motion nightmare of chronic pelvic pain syndrome for a period of over twenty years. At one time or another I had almost all of the symptoms you typically hear from patients, and then unrelieved, unrelenting pain 24 hours a day 7 days a week. I had no one to talk to and no one to help me — and then around ten years ago, I had the fortune of experiencing the resolution of my own symptoms by finding and implementing the elements of what is now called the Wise-Anderson Protocol. I gratefully remain pain and symptom-free. So I speak to you both as a clinician who has seen many, many patients with pelvic pain over the past years, and as someone who has had the direct experience of the pelvic pain syndrome with the experience of resolution.

The development of the Wise-Anderson Protocol.

I also have the unusual fortune of meeting and collaborating with Rodney Anderson at Stanford University, director of the Stanford Pelvic Pain Clinic. He is a remarkable physician to whom I have great gratitude for his big mind and willingness to think outside of the box. I have also collaborated with Tim Sawyer, an extraordinary physical therapist. My purpose in the few minutes is to, as clearly as I can, explain the methodology we developed at Stanford over an eight-year period and which we continue to study and refine.

Paradigm shift: chronic pelvic pain is not an infection, but a tension disorder.

I am aware that the Wise-Anderson Protocol represents a significant paradigm shift. We don’t believe the vast majority of those diagnosed with prostatitis/chronic pelvic pain syndrome suffer from a prostate infection or occult bacteria, an autoimmune disorder or compressed pelvic nerves.

We see the overwhelming majority of cases diagnosed as the result of the overuse of the human reflex to tighten the genitals, rectum, and contents of the pelvis in response to anxiety, pain, or trauma by chronically contracting the pelvic muscles. This tendency becomes exaggerated in predisposed individuals, particularly those with a tendency toward anxiety who respond to stress by habitually and unconsciously tightening their pelvic floor. Such a tendency is invisible. No one can see it. Usually, the person who has such a tendency is unaware of it. And the consequences of this tendency are also invisible except for the complaints of discomfort, pain and urinary dysfunction that the sufferer eventually expresses.

This state of chronic constriction creates pain-referring trigger points in and around the pelvis, which in turn, creates an inhospitable environment for the nerves, muscles, blood vessels, and structures within the pelvic basin. This results in a self-feeding cycle of tension, anxiety, and pain, which has been previously unrecognized and untreated. It is a kind of short circuit. Patients with pelvic pain often wind up in the emergency room when this short circuit gets out of control.

The havoc of chronic tension in the pelvis and the tension-anxiety-pain cycle.

Most people neither appreciate nor understand the havoc that chronic tension plays in the pelvic floor. It is the same havoc that chronic neck and shoulder tension plays in a headache, chronic back tension plays in low back pain, or chronic jaw clenching plays in temperomandibular disorder.

There can be psychological, physical, or social triggers to the chronic tightening of the pelvic floor. Once this cycle begins, it tends to have a life of its own and carries on even when the initiating triggers have passed.

The purpose of the Wise-Anderson Protocol is to break this cycle and to help patients prevent its reoccurrence. The methodology is low tech. The aim is to get patients off of all drugs and to end patient dependency on professional help. The responsibility for the success of the treatment is largely up to the patient’s compliance with the protocol. Patients who look for a quick external fix to their condition tend to lack the motivation that the Wise-Anderson Protocol demands. Such individuals tend not to be good candidates.

The problem in the great quest to restore the pelvis to a relaxed and symptom-free state is that pain, tension, and trigger point activity in the pelvis is intimately tied to emotional reactivity and autonomic arousal. They feed each other. Anxiety is the gasoline on the fire of pelvic pain. This is also why placebo is so influential in this condition. This tie-up with autonomic arousal and pelvic pain has never been addressed and is essential to any effective treatment.

How to understand pelvic pain if you don’t have it.

I want to take a moment to help those of you who have never had pelvic pain syndrome to experientially understand it from my viewpoint. In this way, you have more of an intuitive sense of what we do. If I were to ask you to tighten your pelvic muscles for the next ten seconds as though you were stopping yourself from urinating, most of you could do this. If I ask you to tighten your pelvic muscles for one minute, probably fewer of you would be willing.

Now imagine you were to continually tighten up your pelvic muscles for a half an hour, one hour, twelve hours, twenty-four hours, one month, six months, one year, two years, five years, ten years. Most people consider it inconceivable to be stuck in an activity of such self-abuse and self-inflicted pain. No one here would dare venture voluntarily. I suggest that the consequences of this kind of chronic tension lead to the symptoms of which most patients diagnosed with prostatitis/cpps suffer.

I want to talk about the relationship between anxiety and trigger point activity.

Anxiety makes trigger points hurt more.

Here are pictures of electrical activity in trigger points at baseline, during relaxation and under stress, in a study done by Gevirtz and Hubbard in San Diego. On the left, we see trigger point activity at baseline… notice that the electrical activity in the trigger point is significantly elevated from the electrical activity of the non-tender tissue just 1/4 inch away. Notice now the center reading after the subject has begun relaxation. The electrical activity of the trigger point normalizes. Notice now the electrical activity of the trigger point during a stressor. The electrical activity is significantly activated well beyond baseline readings. These studies have been duplicated hundreds of times and clearly show the strong impact of autonomic arousal on trigger point activity.

The Wise-Anderson Protocol represents an effective and safe non-drug, non-surgical treatment for pelvic pain syndrome. It provides far better outcomes than conventional therapies for most patients with no long term side effects. I will briefly summarize the results of our study published this year in the July issue of Journal of Urology. At Stanford, we studied 138 patients who were referred to us, usually by physicians who could no longer help these patients because they had failed all conventional therapy. We were the court of last resort. After treatment, using the Wise-Anderson Protocol, 72% of these refractory patients reported that they marked moderate improvements in their symptoms as reported on the Global Response Assessment. These responses reported as marked and moderate improvements by patients were commensurate with appreciable (10.5% decrease in marked and a 6.5 % decrease) decreases in the NIH-CPSI scores.

Although we have not systematically studied the numbers, it is my observation that positive results from our protocol improve with the increased competence of the patient in our methodology over time. In other words, in my experience, patients’ symptoms appear to improve the longer they follow our protocol.

The two essential elements: Paradoxical Relaxation and pelvic floor Trigger Point Release.

Let me touch on the Wise-Anderson Protocol Trigger Point Release. Time does not permit any detailed discussion of the Trigger Point Release we use and have developed. Suffice it to say that we work with approximately 40 trigger points related to pelvic pain syndrome. We apply the same principles of Trigger Point Release pioneered by Travell and Simons for external muscles, to the release of the internal muscles. A comprehensive list and detailed illustrations of trigger points related to male pelvic pain syndrome and a detailed description of our method are found in the 3rd edition of our book, A Headache in the Pelvis: A New Understanding and Treatment for Prostatitis and Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndromes.

Wise-Anderson Protocol Trigger Point Release.

Here are some notable aspects of the Trigger Point Release protocol we use.

  • We use primarily Trigger Point Release oriented therapy and not myofascial release therapy. They are not the same.
  • Trigger points that refer pelvic pain exist both inside and outside the pelvic floor.
  • The most common trigger points in male pelvic pain are found in the anterior levator ani, the obturator internus, adductors and surprisingly, in the quadratus lumborum and the psoas. I don’t expect you to take in this list but only to know that we have found there are specific trigger points related to specific pelvic pain symptoms.
  • Trigger points tend to be found anteriorly in patients with more urinary symptoms and posteriorly in patients complaining more of rectal pain.
  • We use a method called pressure release on a trigger point, holding it for 60-90 seconds– this length of time, which is usually difficult for many therapists to routinely hold, is critical to the release of the trigger point.
  • We rarely do trigger point injection, only with stubborn external trigger points. Even then, we never advise the use of botox in such injections. We never do or advise internal injections.
  • The number of treatments varies between 5-40 sessions.
  • We generally discourage kegel exercises and do not use pelvic floor biofeedback or electrical stimulation.
  • Patients are taught external and internal trigger point self-treatment. We have found that patients can do the majority of the Wise-Anderson Protocol physiotherapy themselves once they are shown how to do it.
  • We continue to develop an internal wand which we sometimes prescribe for patients when they have no partner or other resources to work with the internal trigger points at home. This has to be used carefully and only after the patient has been thoroughly instructed in its use.
  • In the Wise-Anderson Protocol, Trigger Point Release is done concomitantly with Paradoxical Relaxation.

A word about using only physiotherapy or Paradoxical Relaxation in treating pelvic pain syndrome.

Both Paradoxical Relaxation and Wise-Anderson Protocol physiotherapy aim to rehabilitate the patient’s pelvic floor and to stop the habit of chronically tightening the pelvic muscles under stress. For most patients, each method is necessary but not sufficient in restoring the pelvis to a symptom-free state. The intrapelvic Trigger Point Release we use rehabilitates the pelvic muscles and allows them to relax. The focus of Paradoxical Relaxation is to allow a rehabilitated pelvis to profoundly relax and to support the healing mechanism of the body with respect to a chronically sore and contracted pelvic floor. Importantly, a central purpose of Paradoxical Relaxation is to modify the habit to unconsciously and habitually tighten the pelvis.

It is tempting to look for a quick fix to the problem of Prostatitis/CPPS. As we know, there are no drugs or surgical procedures that satisfactorily help the pain and dysfunction of Prostatitis/CPPS. There is no quick fix. While physiotherapy is essential to our protocol, it is insufficient to resolve the problem. Most patients who have suffered from this problem and simply do physiotherapy discover this.

Generally, if patients do not learn to voluntarily and regularly relax the pelvic floor and reduce their own nervous system arousal, in the long term, manual physiotherapy efforts at rehabilitating the pelvic floor tend to be short lived. Patients easily go back to the old habits that brought about the condition in the first place. A stressful hour in traffic or a fight with one’s partner after the best of physiotherapy session can easily reactivate the trigger points that the therapist has just deactivated. I have seen this with many patients and know it personally.

Paradoxical Relaxation in the Wise-Anderson Protocol.

Few would disagree with the value of profoundly relaxing a painful pelvis. The question is: how is it done? Consider how difficult it is to relax even you neck muscles in the middle of an ordinary upset in your life. Relaxing tension associated with pelvic pain syndrome and anxiety is more difficult.

Tightening against pelvic pain worsens it.

Paradoxical Relaxation seeks to reverse the dysfunctional reflex to tighten against pelvic pain syndrome and the fear associated with it. We can call this chronic tension dysfunctional protective guarding. This reflexive tightening is dysfunctional because it exacerbates rather than protects against pain and anxiety.

The reaction to tighten the pelvis in response to pain paradoxically exacerbates it. Pain is a stimulus that triggers fight or flight. Pain does not reflexively trigger repose and rest, which is in fact what we ask patients to do. Accepting tension as a way to relax it is counter- intuitive. It is this strategy that can reduce the pain or take it away, and thus, we name our method Paradoxical Relaxation.

Dysfunctional protective guarding is at the heart of other functional disorders.

Dysfunctional protective guarding exists in a number of other functional somatic disorders. They include tension headache, temperomandibular disorder, lower back pain, non-cardiac chest pain, and idiopathic dyspepsia among others.

I think a modified Wise-Anderson Protocol may be useful in some of these disorders as well. The central strategy of Paradoxical Relaxation comes from the insight that accepting tension relaxes it. In Paradoxical Relaxation, the emphasis is on tension and not on pain even though pain is usually perceived peripherally during the relaxation training.

Paradoxical Relaxation is not new. The major insights of this therapeutic strategy derive from the world’s oldest wisdom traditions and practices that focus on quieting the mind and body, and from the methodology of my teacher Edmund Jacobson who developed the technique of progressive relaxation.

The paradox of Paradoxical Relaxation can be expressed in the following ways:

  • That accepting tension relaxes it
  • That accepting what is, is the fastest way to change it
  • That what we resist persists
  • That the requisite for changing something is first accepting it as it is, on its own terms

This happens to apply to stubborn pelvic muscle tension. Remarkably, this insight has the potential to allow patients to dissolve pelvic pain syndrome.

Accepting tension is both counter-intuitive and functional in terms of relaxing stubborn tension associated with functional somatic disorders I have mentioned above. Paradoxical Relaxation is a modern day method to implement this perennial wisdom for ordinary people who have pelvic pain syndrome.

In Paradoxical Relaxation, we ask patients to do an extraordinary thing: to focus on, and then rest with their tension when they are anxious and in pain. Learning to do this requires many hours of practice. For the first 3 months, patients are asked to do 1- 1 1/2 hours of relaxation guided by 1 of a 38 lesson sequenced recorded course. The course consists of over a year of 1-2 daily sessions of relaxation training. This can’t be learned from stand-alone relaxation tapes. Patients must receive many hours of instruction by a teacher competent in the method. The Wise-Anderson Protocol is the slow fix.

Pelvic Pain syndrome is almost always accompanied by a constant level of fear.

Paradoxical Relaxation asks patients to relax while they feel pain and fear. Patients have to be reassured that it won’t hurt them to relax while they experience their fear. It is common for patients to feel that if they accept their tension and fear and pain, that they have given up and that they will never get rid of their condition. These notions are obstructions to learning and must be addressed directly. Here is the paradox again–relaxing with and accepting fear is most likely to dissolve it.

To the novice, relaxing with pelvic pain syndrome, chronic tension, and chronic anxiety is scary.

And so it is, in this context, that we ask people to sit still with it all. Relax with the pain, fear, helplessness, desire for distraction, fear of the method failing, fear that their life is over and that they will have to live in chronic pain until they die, and fear of getting their hopes up. This is scary territory. Teaching patients this relaxation protocol addresses all of these concerns and takes time and many repetitions to gain some degree of competence.

The Wise-Anderson Protocol is done in a 6-day intensive immersion clinic.

The format of the Wise-Anderson Protocol is unusual as it is done in a six-day intensive immersion clinic involving some 30 hours of treatment. At this clinic, patients are trained in Paradoxical Relaxation, receive daily physiotherapy, are trained in self-administered Wise-Anderson Protocol Trigger Point Release, specific stretches, and related physiotherapy techniques. It is the goal of this clinic for the patient to be able to self-administer most of the protocol without reliance on additional treatment.

The goal of the Wise-Anderson Protocol is to enable patients to resolve symptoms without drug dependency.

The Wise-Anderson Protocol represents a very different paradigm from one in which a patient who feels he has no control over his symptoms comes to the doctor to be cured and submits himself passively for the remedy. Our aim is to make patients independent. It is our goal that patients trained in our protocol find themselves in a position to take care of and possibly resolve this condition themselves without dependency on drugs or others to do so for them.

Why Stress Triggers and Perpetuates Pelvic Pain Symptoms

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Even slight amounts of stress can trigger pelvic pain symptoms.

Studies have shown that myofascial trigger points that are found in sore and painful muscles inside the pelvic floor are strongly affected by stress. Gevirtz and Hubbard did electromyographic monitored studies of the electrical activity of trigger points and their relationship to stress. Even the slightest increase in anxiety and nervous arousal caused a significant increase in the electrical activity of the trigger points. Individuals suffering from pelvic pain often report an increase in pelvic pain symptoms with stress and a decrease of pelvic pain symptoms with the reduction of stress and anxiety. For this reason, the Wise-Anderson Protocol trains patients with a relaxation method. This regularly reduces anxiety and nervous system arousal.

While individuals with pelvic pain often notice the relationship between stress and their symptoms, some people with pelvic pain are only rarely aware of the impact. The reason is that if you live, for instance, in a marriage where there is ongoing resentment, a work situation in which you deal with frustration regularly, or live with a sense of dread because of a general tendency to jump to catastrophic conclusions, you get used to these emotional currents and think they are just a part of life. You may not connect the dots in seeing their relationship to your symptoms. When you live in water, you don’t notice that you’re wet.

Many of our patients tend to live in a world of constant worry.

We know that when you have pelvic pain symptoms, you usually live with some level of anxiety and/or depression. Our recent study at Stanford shows a greater early morning rise in salivary cortisol in pelvic pain patients as opposed to normal, non-symptomatic control subjects. These findings which suggest heightened anxiety in individuals who suffer from pelvic pain syndromes. We have discussed in our book A Headache in the A Pelvis that an increased level of psychological distress in patients dealing with pelvic pain symptoms is equivalent to dealing with the same kind of stress people deal with who have heart disease or Crohn’s disease. Absent are studies of levels of dread, resentment, and anger in those who deal with pelvic pain, though it is our anecdotal experience that such emotions often punctuate the lives of many of our patients.

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Many patients do not recognize the relationship between their emotional states and their pelvic pain symptoms.

Most people dealing with pelvic pain symptoms are not aware of the significance of their condition. When you are able to relax and let go of a level of anxiety you normally live with, and you witness a dramatic improvement in your symptoms, you usually find the wherewithal to earnestly do something about anxiety. It’s all about seeing the relationship between cause and effect.

To stop catastrophic thinking, you first have to recognize it. Pelvic pain can provide the impetus to decide to see things differently. This is because seeing things differently can reduce your symptoms. It is part of our language to distinguish between optimistic and pessimistic viewpoints by using the analogy of ‘seeing the glass half full or half empty.’ It is not a lie to say the glass is half full or half empty; they are both equally true. But for someone who knows the glass as half empty, and suffers from such a viewpoint, it takes an effort to choose the ‘half full’ perspective, because the perspective is so strongly ingrained.

Chronic states of anxiety, fear, dread, sorrow, resentment or anger must be addressed for any real resolution. Unfortunately, at this time, contemporary medicine has not been interested in the profound relationship between pelvic pain symptoms and ongoing dysfunctional emotional states. This is the reason why, in our view, conventional treatments have failed. The rehabilitation of attitudes that promote chronic states of anxiety, fear, dread, sorrow, resentment or anger is essential for anyone who is serious about stopping their pelvic pain.

The paradigm implied in the treatment protocol for pelvic pain developed at Stanford University.

It is a new paradigm to think you can voluntarily relax your habitually tight core which includes the anorectal area. When you call someone a “tight ass,” the implication is that such a person is characteristically in a chronic state—someone who is “tight-assed” or “anal” is considered a kind of person whose tendency is to be perfectionistic and cannot be reformed. Our protocol is based on the understanding that voluntary efforts to behaviorally change the default tone of the pelvic floor can change to one that is relaxed and at ease. This new understanding asserts that “tight asses” can become “relaxed asses.”

Like the insights of the new paradigm of neuroscience regarding the plasticity of the brain, we propose that the chronically tensed core, including the intestines and pelvic floor muscles, can be trained to be relaxed. We propose that the tendency to brace the viscera under stress can be changed without surgery or drugs. This is done through training in calming a chronically vigilant nervous system. In other words, the chronic tension associated with nervous system arousal can be brought under our voluntary control.

Changing this habitual inner posture is not brought about by drugs or surgery. It can be brought under the control of the patients’ disciplined consciousness. For patients who come to our clinic, the suffering with pelvic pain is what we believe provides the motivation for someone to learn to control catastrophic thinking, an upset nervous system, and the pelvic pain related to them. We are proposing that resolving chronically tight insides can’t be done by anyone else except by the person who is suffering. Over a lifetime, we believe that teaching people to calm down their insides under their own volition is the most cost effective method of dealing with pelvic pain, despite the fact that initially training people to do this has its costs. In our view, the psychophysical treatment of the Wise-Anderson Protocol represents the best framework within which someone can modify a contracted core.

A gentle approach to breaking the cycle.

The Wise-Anderson Protocol intervenes in all aspects of the tension-anxiety-pain cycle. Paradoxical Relaxation lowers pelvic tension and anxiety by lowering autonomic nervous system arousal and habitual pelvic tension. Trigger Point Release and certain myofascial release methods, including what we describe as skin rolling and pelvic floor yoga, deactivates trigger point pain, lengthens chronically contracted muscles, and makes the pelvic muscles more capable of relaxation.

Our understanding is a significant departure from the conventional view of prostatitis and chronic pelvic pain syndromes. We see pelvic pain as a physical expression of the way a person copes with life. We propose that pelvic pain is the result of a neuromuscular state perpetuated by anxiety and chronic bracing in both men and women. It is not the result of a foreign organism in the prostate gland in the case of prostatitis, an autoimmune disorder, or other contemporary explanations.

When certain predisposed individuals focus tension in the pelvic muscles, this chronic tension, over time, creates an inhospitable environment in the pelvic floor that gives rise to a cycle of tension, anxiety, and pain. Once this cycle is set into motion, it takes on a life of its own. Our treatment aims to restore the capacity of the pelvic tissue to relax, to perform its normal functions, and to return to a pain-free and dysfunction-free state.