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What is Proctalgia Fugax?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Proctalgia fugax is an intense pain around the rectum which can last for a few seconds to several minutes. The pain is caused by cramping of muscles around the rectum such as the pubococcygeus muscle, and sometimes may be located in the levator ani muscles. This condition is quite common although many patients do not report it, perhaps due to feeling shy about discussing the region of the body involved.

Most people who experience proctalgia fugax have only a few fleeting episodes each year. The pain can last up to 20 minutes, and may be accompanied with spasming and cramping. It can feel like a bowel movement is in progress, but this is not actually the case. This condition, while painful, is benign and is not usually a sign of a more serious medical problem. If the cramps are prolonged and higher up in the rectum, the patient may have levator ani syndrome, a related condition.

Commonly, people develop proctalgia fugax at night. There are a number of ways in which people can deal with the painful muscle spasms. Taking a hot bath or sitting on a hot water bottle sometimes help, as does applying pressure by sitting on an object such as a wrapped tennis ball. Massage around the region of the anus can also relieve the pain, as can careful stretching. Some people also experience relief when they take analgesic medications which are designed to be fast acting.

There is no cure for proctalgia fugax, but patients may find that diet and lifestyle adjustments can help to address the problem. Sometimes muscles cramp because of dietary insufficiency, and consuming a more varied diet with vitamins and minerals like potassium may help resolve muscle cramps. Stretching regularly can also encourage muscles to elongate and strengthen so that they are less likely to cramp.

This condition is not necessarily a cause for concern, but a patient can bring it up with a doctor if there are worries. Doctors are accustomed to dealing with a wide range of symptoms and body parts and while this region of the body is one which patients may feel embarrassed about discussing, a doctor may be able to provide reassurance. If the cramping is accompanied with symptoms elsewhere in the body, it may be a symptom of an underlying medical issue which may need to be addressed. Resolving the problem will also usually fix the proctalgia fugax.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments
By anon955676 — On Jun 09, 2014

I am glad to hear that I am not alone! I've had those attacks for years, any time, day or night. The first time I almost called an ambulance. Difficult to work with that condition. I found that squatting is helping to reduce the pain. Sometimes the whole thing ends with a bowel movement. I will try magnesium. I am 55 years old and fear the time when, older, I won't be able to squat anymore!

By anon283019 — On Aug 01, 2012

I am a 46 year old male who has dealt with this condition for 15 or so years. The pain is remarkable! I once passed out and chipped a tooth. I didn't know what was going on for many years and wasn't interested in talking about it.

The frequency was once maybe twice a year for a number of years, yet has become more frequent during the past three or four. It typically occurs when I am asleep and it wakes me up. Although the time it resulted in a chipped tooth actually started while I was awake. I associate it with stress primarily, followed by poor sleep plus dehydration.

I found a very effective solution about three or four years ago. My uncle was experiencing severe cramping possibly related to his condition of Alzheimer's. Someone recommended to him a supplement named Trace Minerals. He told me about it and I later purchased a bottle to see if it helped with this condition. The largest component of this liquid is magnesium.

Last night, for example, I went to bed very tired. I woke up about an hour later well into this cramp and was already in quite a bit of pain. I was worried. I placed about eight drops if this liquid under my tongue. It worked fast and the cramp began to dissipate within a minute or so. This stuff tastes awful so if I have time, I mix it with grapefruit juice. I am not promoting this stuff, yet I don't travel without it.

I have thought about searching for a liquid magnesium supplement and try that. It may be less expensive. The key is to take it sublingually if the cramping has begun.

By anon159883 — On Mar 13, 2011

Two things help me. Mentally I try to separate myself from the pain (difficult to achieve when the pain is equal to the pain of passing a kidney stone) and secondly I jog on the spot. I realize this is easy at home and ridiculous in the middle of the supermarket. Thankfully most attacks occur when I have some privacy. malcolm

By anon158700 — On Mar 08, 2011

I also go through this pain! It happens after having sex. My wife and I have both consulted doctors about this and found that quickest way to relieve the pain and discomfort that I go through is stretching the anus by either squatting with my knees spread apart or using a small plug with a generous amount of lubrication. My doctor recently told me to try a desensitizing cream with the plug.

By anon149630 — On Feb 05, 2011

I have experienced this pain sporadically now for a few years (as did my mother) until all of a sudden the pain became constant, intense and just did not let up at all. This has only presented itself in the last two weeks. I have since been admitted to hospital and undergone sigmoidoscopy/proctoscopy which revealed nothing sinister. I am in constant rectal pain and have today started a month's supply of Gabapentin 300mg, which hopefully will take care of the constant pain. Any further advice as to how to control pain would be appreciated.

By anon137214 — On Dec 27, 2010

I have suffered from this condition for years, as do my mother and daughter. The pain can last between 15 minutes, and up to two hours, mostly at night, but on occasion through the day.

I found that taking Panadeine or Panadol, and, sitting on a heat pack worked, after a while. I saw a physio regarding a woman's problem a few weeks ago. She recommended M.P.65 (Magnesium Phosphate 65mg), and now the pain lasts only about 5-10 minutes. The recommended dose is two tablets, then another two in five minutes, and another two in five minutes if necessary.

It certainly is a relief to know that I can get almost immediate relief now with these tablets. I hope this helps, as the pain is excruciating.

By anon137003 — On Dec 25, 2010

I would get the spasms after an orgasm -- talk about bad timing. I use the tub also and I saw a gynecologist also that sent me to a physical therapist. I also see a chiropractor and massage therapist that is a big help.

I had one recently at work and I realize why. I pushed my mom in a wheel chair all day and went to work that night. Just too much that day.

By anon125582 — On Nov 09, 2010

I am so glad I did this search and found this article. I can get spasms that are close to unbearable, and can last 15 minutes or more. nothing helps. I just practice breath control until it passes. Thankfully, these are not what I would term frequent episodes.

Two colonoscopies showed no fissuring or ulceration. I feel relieved to have found a name for this. The docs just didn't seem to get it. Most times i experience a rapid fluttering of the sphincter, and then it hits, like a charlie horse type of cramp. It happens most times while I am sleeping, and I wake up to the cramp setting in, and the fluttering starting to subside. I get up and walk.

By anon119382 — On Oct 17, 2010

I get this pain but when it started about seven years ago, it was only a few times. Now when I get it, it can last for days. I have seen a gyn/urologist that sent me to a special physical therapist. I have special exercises to do that do help, but you can't stop it or it does come back.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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