Interstitial Cystitis: Healing from Chronic Bladder Pain

Interstitial Cystitis is an extremely painful bladder condition. The condition is so painful, that two people who were afflicted with it had Jack Kavorkian assist them in suicide. It is not a life-threatening condition, but the symptoms are so debilitating that one’s quality of life is quite low. I was diagnosed with Interstitial Cystitis while I was in nursing school. It paved the way for me to do deep healing and commit to the work that I offer to others.

Inter-stitial means “between the cells”. Cystitis means inflammation of the bladder. Essentially this condition is inflammation of the space between the cells of the bladder. It feels like a bladder or urinary infection but when the urine is tested in a urine culture, it comes back negative for bacteria. Symptoms include bladder urgency, frequency, burning pain and stinging. The effects of these symptoms are that patients cannot sleep through the night due to frequent urination and pain, sex often creates more discomfort and general quality of life, work and pleasure decreases due to chronic pain.

A number of theories exist as to what causes Interstitial Cystitis, as well as how to treat it. Most doctors say that no treatment offers the opportunity for a full recovery, but that the goal is to manage the symptoms as best as they can. The medical treatments are mediocre at best. I do believe there is a time and a place for western medicine, but when it comes to chronic inflammatory conditions, symptom management does not address the root of the problem, and therefore does not offer the opportunity for making a full recovery.

Western medical treatment options for Interstitial Cystitis:

  • Elmiron – A drug with an unknown mechanism of action that patients are told they must stay on indefinitely. It has many toxic side effects.
  • Bladder instillations – This is a procedure where the patient receives a bladder catheter that instills a cocktail of medications into the bladder to help reduce inflammation. The drugs include Heparin (a blood thinner), Lidocaine (a numbing agent) and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). This can manage the symptoms, but is uncomfortable, invasive and can introduce bacteria to the bladder.
  • Pain medications – There are a variety of options for pain medications that range in effectiveness and level of toxicity. I do think some amount of medical pain control can be helpful, while we work to find a holistic treatment that is going to be effective. The pain can be so encompassing with IC that if we do not manage it, it is hard to maintain the commitment to holistic treatment.

I have offered support to many women struggling with Interstitial Cystitis and seen many women make incredible recoveries. They generally report that after recovery, times of high stress will induce a mild flare and it will remind them to come back to the healing practices that supported their healing originally.

Most folks who have Interstitial Cystitis struggle with anxiety that pre-dated their symptoms and diagnosis. Often they have a history of bladder or urinary tract infections. Additionally, many have a history of trauma and abuse, often sexual or physical in nature.

Each individual has a unique pathway to healing and when I work with women who have Interstitial Cystitis, I take this into account as we work together. The recommendations below, however, are fairly universal.

Alternative Treatment Options for Interstitial Cystitis:

  • Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy® – The underlying intention of Maya Abdominal Massage is to support the uterus to be in healthy, balanced alignment in the pelvis. This supports relieving congestion and clearing of inflammation. It is also relaxing and supports healing from old trauma. 
  • Holistic Pelvic Care – This work offers healing massage to the musculature of the pelvic bowl, relieving congestion and supporting balanced among all aspects of the pelvis. Touch in the vagina is generally only offered in a medical or sexual context. Offering touch through this modality can be profoundly healing. HPC also offers emotional and spiritual healing to the place in the woman that holds old trauma.
  • Herbs – Each individual is unique and may benefit from different herbs. Two that tend to be generally soothing to the bladder are marshmallow root and parsley. I recommend blending them together and steeping a few tablespoons of the herbs in a quart of water for 20 minutes and drinking it throughout the day.
  • Diet changes – Most folks notice specific foods trigger their symptoms and there is some variation, though common foods that irritate and already inflamed bladder are citrus, highly acidic foods, spicy foods and caffeine. I had to eliminate chocolate for over a year, which I now happily eat and refer to as my Vitamin C. I saw this to point out that many IC patients do need to have a pretty restricted diet during the acute healing phase that does vary quite a bit in length, but once they are recovered can often eat some of the things they needed to avoid. That said, it is best to maintain a healthy diet, rich in vegetables, high quality protein and fat, low in sugar, caffeine and other inflammatory foods.
  • Relaxation techniques – As I said, many folks with IC also have anxiety. Managing anxiety and sleep will be crucial to healing. For some, silent, sitting meditation can be agitating. If that is true for you, seek out other forms of guided relaxation. One of the benefits to our digital world is that there are many free and easily accessible resources in this arena.

If you or someone you know suffers from this condition, I hope the above information offers supportive beginning steps towards healing. I offer in person and distance consultations to support women and men in their healing from Interstitial Cystitis.

Contact me with any questions or to schedule a consultation.


About Chaya Aronson

Chaya Leia Aronson, RN BSN is a bodyworker, health and sexuality coach, dancer, lover and mother. Chaya believes that we source our creative, life force expression through our pelvic bowls and if the energy is blocked here, it greatly affects our capacity to be our full authentic selves in the world. Her passion is to support pelvic and abdominal health and healing. The main forms of bodywork she practices are the Arvigo Techniques of Maya Abdominal Therapy® and Holistic Pelvic Care™. Bellydance, contact improvisation and yoga have been the central core of her spiritual and physical practice for over 20 years. She weaves the knowledge she’s gained about movement patterns and body structure with her playful and intuitive spirit to support her clients in actively healing their own bodies and spirits.