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Understanding Interstitial Cystitis (Painful Bladder Syndrome)

We know that interstitial cystitis can sound scary and can bring up questions pertaining to what it means for you and your bladder. Here, our aim is to offer clarity on interstitial cystitis, providing you with the knowledge to navigate this diagnosis with confidence!

What is Interstitial Cystitis?

The term interstitial cystitis is commonly shortened to ‘IC.’ This is how we’ll be referring to it throughout this post.

IC is also known as painful bladder syndrome which is a much better descriptor of this diagnosis. One of the most common symptoms that people experience with IC is pain in the bladder!

There is a common misconception that only women can be diagnosed with IC but this is not the case. IC does not discriminate based on gender; anyone with a bladder, regardless of whether they are male or female, can be diagnosed with this condition.

What happens to the bladder in those with IC?

 While the exact cause of IC remains unknown, what is clear is that individuals with IC experience irritation specifically along the lining of the bladder.

The bladder is the organ in your body that stores urine before it’s passed through urination.

The bladder operates much like a balloon. Picture how a balloon expands when filled with air and deflates when the air is released. Similarly, as the bladder fills with urine, it expands, and when emptied, it deflates— not as dramatically as a balloon but this visual comparison helps illustrate the bladder’s function.

You can think of the bladder lining like the inside layer of a balloon; it’s a thin, protective covering that helps hold urine in the bladder.

With interstitial cystitis, this lining can become irritated or inflamed which can result in various different symptoms. Common symptoms in those with IC include urinary frequency, bladder pain, pelvic pain, urinary urgency, and/or a constant urge to urinate.

Pain with sex is also a symptom that can occur in those with IC, but this is usually more related to the pelvic floor– we’ll discuss more on the pelvic floor’s relationship to IC later…

While IC is often linked to bladder lining issues, it’s important to note that the issue with the lining is typically just one aspect contributing to the symptoms associated with IC.

Frequently, additional factors such as the pelvic floor muscles, diet, and stress, will also play a role in influencing IC symptoms.

This is why identifying specific triggers for your IC symptoms is crucial in treatment. Whether it’s stress, certain diet choices, the pelvic floor, or a combination, there’s no one size fits all solution.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t improve your symptoms, it just means that a personalized treatment plan is very important.

How does the pelvic floor relate to IC?

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that are closely related to your bladder. These muscles not only provide support for your bladder (and your other pelvic organs), but they also help control urination. This is why the pelvic floor is so important to consider when it comes to IC treatment.

Normally, when there’s a strong urge to urinate, the pelvic floor muscles tighten to keep the urine in the bladder until you reach the bathroom.

However, with IC, frequent urges to urinate can lead to more periodic  contractions of the pelvic floor muscles, even when the bladder isn’t full. This persistent tightening of the pelvic floor muscles can put extra pressure on the urethra (the tube that exits the bladder), which can make symptoms feel worse.

It’s also possible that tightness in the pelvic floor muscles among individuals with IC may be a response to stress or may be a protective mechanism against bladder pain. In either case, tight pelvic floor muscles often worsen symptoms like urinary frequency, urinary urgency, and bladder pain.

How will I know if my pelvic floor muscles are tight?

Pelvic floor physical therapists are experts at evaluating the pelvic floor muscles and can help to determine if you are experiencing tightness in these muscles.

If it is determined that your pelvic floor muscles are tight, a pelvic floor physical therapist can also help to treat this problem!

If the pelvic floor muscles are tight, manual physical therapy and bladder retraining can be effective for addressing these issues.

Even if your physical therapist (PT) determines that you don’t have an issue with the pelvic floor muscles, bladder training can still be helpful for IC symptoms and your PT can assist with this.

Contact ITR Physical Therapy today at 301-770-7060 to schedule an appointment with our experienced Bethesda and McLean pelvic floor physical therapy team or book online today.