Don’t Tough It Out: A Military Woman’s Journey to Treating Pelvic Pain

Servicewomen often ignore pelvic pain and try to tough it out. But pain down below can signal something more serious.

Medically reviewed by Shea O’Neill, M.D.

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Two women are in the gym wearing Army PTs. They are doing deadlifts.

Woods (winces and stops her workout): Ouch!

Peterson: What’s wrong?

Woods: Oh, nothing. Just some pelvic pain. You know, it’s that time of month! 

Peterson: Yeah, I hate that. 

Woods (winces again): Geez! (Puts the weights down and stops working out).

Peterson: Are you sure you’re okay? It seems like you’re in a lot of pain over there.

Woods: Yeah. I just recently upped my weights. My muscles are getting used to lifting these extra pounds. And I’m bleeding really heavily right now. You know how it goes. 

Peterson: Actually, I’m not sure I do. How heavy are we talking?

Woods: I don't know...I change my tampon about every 2 hours or so.

Peterson: I’m no doctor, but that sounds like a lot. Have you talked to your OB-GYN?

Woods: No. I guess I thought it was just normal. You don’t have bleeding that heavy?

Peterson: Maybe for the first day, but then it really slows down. 

A couple weeks later… Woods is at her medical provider’s office.

HCP: Hi, SPC Woods. What brings you in today?

Woods: Well, I’ve been having some weird pelvic pains. I thought it was because I was squatting with too much weight. I also have really heavy periods, which I thought was normal but a friend told me it’s not.

Woods is sitting on the exam table.

HCP: Well, during your period, bleeding varies from person to person, but really heavy or painful periods can be a sign of something else that might be wrong. Have you experienced any other unusual symptoms lately?

Woods: Yeah. I guess I’ve also had some lower back pain and it hurts during sex.

HCP: How long has this been going on? 

Woods: Probably about two years. I should have come in sooner, I guess, but I was trying to tough it out. I thought it was normal.

The HCP performs a pelvic exam on Woods.

HCP: I see a lot of people who feel like you do. Servicewomen are often afraid to speak up about not feeling well because they don’t want to be seen as weak. But I’m glad you’re here now.

If it’s okay with you, I’m going to perform a pelvic exam and see what’s happening.

Reasons servicewomen ignore pelvic pain:

  • Not wanting to be seen as weak by their peers, especially their male counterparts.
  • Fear of becoming non-deployable or being medically discharged.
  • Assuming pain is from overtraining.
  • Thinking heavy periods are normal.
  • Thinking the pain is temporary and will go away on its own.
HCP finishes the pelvic exam.

HCP: I think you may have a few fibroids in here. It makes sense with the symptoms you’ve been having.

Woods: So what’s the next step?

HCP: I’m going to send you in for an ultrasound so we can get a better look at what we’re dealing with. The good news is, we have some options for how we can treat and manage your symptoms. 

Come back and see me after. If it is fibroids, we’ll discuss whether medication, hormone therapy, surgery or radiofrequency ablation to shrink the tumors is best for you.

Symptoms of fibroids

  • Heavy periods
  • Prolonged periods
  • Frequent bleeding, including times other than your period
  • Painful periods
  • Pelvic pressure
  • Pain in the stomach
  • Pain during sex
  • Lower back pain (often dull, heavy and aching, but may be sharp)
  • Frequent urination or trouble emptying bladder

1 month later…

Woods and Peterson are back in the gym and Woods is back to doing her weights with no trouble.

Peterson: It’s great to see you back in top form. 

Woods: I’m feeling so much better. It turns out I have fibroids, and I got started on a medication that’s really helping my symptoms. Thanks for encouraging me to go to my OB-GYN.

Peterson: No biggie. I know you would’ve done the same for me.

This educational resource was created with support from Sumitomo Pharma.


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