If you’ve never thought much about your pelvic floor, you’re not alone. Most people don’t give this section of the body much consideration until it’s too late – they become incontinent, or worse, suffer a pelvic organ prolapse as a result of pregnancy, obesity or chronic constipation. But the pelvic floor is one of the most important muscles in the body, and ignoring it can have potentially great consequences later in life.
Let’s begin with a little bit of anatomy. The pelvic floor is a basket of muscles that supports some pretty major organs – your bladder, rectum and uterus in women, and your bladder, rectum and prostate in men, to be exact. The muscles stretch across the pubic area from front to back and from side to side. They are typically very firm and thick, but are also flexible and are able to move up and down (kind of like a trampoline).
These muscles are very important in supporting the organs listed above, and are essential in maintaining control over our bladder and bowel. The pelvic floor muscles also play a large role in sexual function for men and women, and provide support for the baby during pregnancy.
Over the course of our life, many things can compromise the stability of the pelvic floor, leading to things like incontinence, or pelvic organ prolapse. Obesity, childbirth, chronic coughing, chronic constipation, or other things that put strain on the pelvic floor can cause it to weaken. And with age there is often a weakening of the connective tissues of the pelvic floor.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT THE PELVIC FLOOR
The good news is that much like the other muscles in the body, the pelvic floor can be trained and strengthened over time. By learning to strengthen the pelvic floor, you may be able to prevent or even eliminate symptoms of incontinence or prolapse.
There are many exercises you can do to strengthen the pelvic floor. Kegels are great at isolating the pelvic floor muscles, but because the pelvic floor connects to many of the muscles that create your “core” (your diaphragm, transversus abdonminis, and multifidus), you also need to incorporate workouts that build strength in those areas as well. And remember – it’s not just about tightening. We need to ensure that our muscles are neither too tight, nor too loose. Learning how to relax the pelvic floor is just as important as learning how to strengthen it, since a pelvic floor that is too tight can create weakness and cause problems too. Like any other muscle in the body, we are looking for our muscles to be strong and flexible.
SYMPTOMS OF PELVIC FLOOR TENSION
- Painful intercourse
- Pelvic Pain
- Inability to empty your bladder completely
- Painful urination
If you experience these symptoms, we recommend that you see a pelvic floor physical therapist prior to starting any strengthening program. Performing strengthening exercises on a pelvic floor that is already too tight can create additional problems, or make any existing issues worse.
SYMPTOMS OF PELVIC FLOOR WEAKNESS
- Urinary incontinence
- Urinary urgency/frequency
- Stool and gas incontinence
- Pelvic organ prolapse, or the dropping of your organs through your vagina
- Sexual dysfunction
- Pelvic girdle pain
Learning how to strengthen, and relax the pelvic muscles can help with pelvic floor weakness.
Want tips on how to improve your pelvic floor strength? Check out these great resources:
Incorporating Pelvic Floor Exercises Into Your General Workout Routine – 3 Best Moves To Add Now.
Ask The Expert: Can Pelvic Floor Exercises Really Help My OAB Symptoms?
Note: If you are experiencing symptoms of either pelvic floor weakness or tension, we strongly advise you to see a physical therapist specialized in pelvic floor therapy. A physical therapist can help provide you with a diagnosis and put you on a custom treatment program specific to your needs.