Dr. Weyrich's Naturopathic Functional Medicine Notebook is a collection of information on topics of interest to Dr. Weyrich that may be of interest to the world wide audience. Due to limitations of time, not all information that Dr. Weyrich knows or would like to further research is published here. Dr. Weyrich welcomes financial contributions to support specific research topics, as well as copies of non-free access journal articles for him to review on a topic. Constructive criticism is also welcome.


Overview of Proctalgia Fugax and Levator Spasm

Proctalgia fugax and Levator spasm are similar pain syndromes of the pelvic, rectal, and perianal areas. Attacks may last about 20 minutes, building to an intolerable crescendo and then gradually abating.

The constriction of the anal muscles makes the patient more susceptible to formation of anal fissures, both by reducing blood supply to the area, making the tissue less healthy and more friable, and simultaneously exacerbating the mechanical stress caused by passage of hard stools.

The pain from anal fissures may lead to spasm of the levator ani muscles, resulting in a vicious cycle.


Signs and Symptoms of Proctalgia Fugax and Levator Spasm

Proctalgia Fugax:

  • More common in young men.
  • Brief episodic pain may last about 20 minutes.
  • Sensation as if a knife were inserted up the rectum.
  • May awaken patient at night.

Levator Spasm:

  • More common in women.
  • Episodic spasm of the levator ani muscle.
  • Pain tends to be left-sided, may radiate into gluteal region.
  • Sensation as if sitting on a ball, or as a dull ache high in the rectum.
  • Levator sling tenderness upon transanal palpation.

Etiology of Proctalgia Fugax and Levator Spasm

Physical examination is usually found to be normal. Onset may be associated with the following:
  • Spasm of levator ani or ischiococcygeal muscles.
  • Previous pelvic surgery.
  • Disordered defecation syndromes
  • Episodes may be triggered by a variety of factors (often painful stimuli that provoke a reflex muscle spasm) such as:
    • Sitting
    • Emotional factors
    • Sexual activity
    • Fatigue
    • Low back pain
    • Anal fissures
    • Abscesses
    • Gas distention of the lower bowel
    • Prostate disorders
    • Structural deviations of the lumbosacral junction, sacroiliac junction, or coccyx
    • Structural deviations of the supporting pelvic floor

Diagnosis of Proctalgia Fugax and Levator Spasm

  • History, Physical exam, DRE
  • Male or female exam.
  • CBC
  • Examination of axial spine and bony pelvis.
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Radiology: Plain film X-ray, CT Scan, MRI, Ultrasound
  • Transrectal ultrasound
  • Electromyelography (EMG - paradoxical puborectalis contraction)
  • Nerve conduction
  • Barium enema X-Ray
  • Cinedefography
  • Anorectal manography (EMG may be more sensitive)

Differential Diagnosis of Proctalgia Fugax and Levator Spasm

  • Proctalgia fugax (stabbing pain)
  • Levator spasm (left-sided, as if sitting on ball)
  • Inflammatory diseases:
  • Paradoxical puborectalis contraction.
  • Pelvic floor hernia
  • Cauda equina syndrome (S2 to S4) or pudendal nerve disorder
  • Descending perineum syndrome/laxity of the pelvic floor causing nerve traction
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Ovarian torsion
  • Rectocele
  • Retrovaginal intussusception
  • Neoplastic diseases
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Peripheral neuritic/degenerative disease
  • Depression/anxiety (possibly secondary)
  • Chronic idiopathic rectal pain (if none of the above).

Treatment of Proctalgia Fugax and Levator Spasm

  • Find and treat the exacerbating cause.
  • Massage of levator ani muscle
  • Digital stretching of the ischiococcygeus to relax it
  • Anal sphincter massage under regional or general anesthesia
  • Warm sitz baths may relax the anal sphincter muscles and promote blood flow.
  • Muscle relaxant (beta-blocker, calcium channel blocker)
  • Analgesic
  • Local anesthetic
  • Nerve block
  • Botox
  • Diathermy
  • Electrogalvonic muscle stimulation of the lower rectum (Sohn, 1982 - results variable)
  • Manipulation of axial spine and bony pelvis, especially the SI joint
  • Biofeedback to learn to control muscle tone may be helpful

Pathophysiology of Proctalgia Fugax and Levator Spasm

Spasm and ischemia of the muscles of the pelvic floor are implicated, including the striated muscles:
  • Levator ani
  • Puborectalis
  • Pubococcygeus
  • Iliococcygeus
and the smooth muscle of the internal anal sphincter.

References for Proctalgia Fugax and Levator Spasm