Pelvic floor muscles – what’s the big deal?

by Chelsie Doncon – Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapist

More often than not women don’t think too much about the pelvic floor until a few problems ‘down there’ start happening or you become pregnant and then all of a sudden people don’t stop talking about it. If you’re wondering why on earth it’s so important then read on!

The facts…

1 in 2 women will have a vaginal prolapse
1 in 3 women leak urine
1 in 5 women have pelvic pain
1 in 9 women have faecal incontinence 

Now that’s not to scare you, it’s to let you know that these problems are incredibly common but to also let you know that none of them are normal. Did you know pelvic floor training is strongly recommended as a management tool for all of these conditions?

Now let’s bring it back to the basics. Anatomy.

The pelvis is an incredibly strong ring of bone connected at the front via the pubic symphysis and at the back by the sacroiliac joints. Cartilage and thick strong ligaments help to secure the joints. The pelvic floor is a hammock of muscles (yes there is more than one) that slings from the pubic bone at the front to the tailbone (coccyx) at the back. There is space for the three openings of the anus, vagina and urethra to pass.

What does the pelvic floor do?

  • It supports the uterus, bowel and bladder
  • Controls bowel and bladder function – so you can hold on when you need to, go when you want to and prevent anything from sneaking out when it shouldn’t
  • Sexual function – allows for comfortable penetration and optimal sensation
  • Works with your diaphragm (breathing muscle), deep back muscles and abdominal muscles to encourage optimal movement

So that means that if you are leaking from the front or the back, having pain with intercourse, feel like something is falling out down there, or are having difficulty emptying your bowel and bladder that there may be something going on with the pelvic floor.

Some things are known to weaken the pelvic floor including:

  • Chronic constipation and straining
  • Chronic coughing
  • Repeated and persistent heavy lifting
  • Vaginal deliveries
  • Pregnancy

Why train the pelvic floor?

Just like any other muscle in the body, the pelvic floor can be and should be trained so that it performs at its best, meaning it’s strong, flexible, capable of holding, can relax all the way and responds when under pressure (like when you cough).

Pelvic floor muscle exercises can help with:

  • Improving bowel and bladder control
  • Reducing risk of or managing prolapse
  • Recovery after childbirth, pregnancy or surgery
  • Increased sexual sensation
  • Pain free intercourse and vaginal examinations
  • Social confidence and quality of life by reducing pelvic floor symptoms

How do you train the pelvic floor muscles?

We strongly encourage having an appointment with one of our Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapists who can assess the pelvic floor and teach you how to correctly use the muscles – research tells us up to 50% of women perform them incorrectly. Check out our blog post on ‘What does a Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapist Do?’ to find more details on what to expect at an appointment.

These are some of the common cues used to train the pelvic floor muscles:

  • Imagine holding onto urine or stopping the flow of urine
  • Imagine holding onto wind
  • Imagine holding in a tampon
  • Lift the perineum (skin between the vagina and anus) away from your underwear

Now I’m betting you just gave it a go. Did you squeeze and only your pelvic floor muscles moved – not your tummy, bottom muscles or inner thighs? Did you keep breathing? These are all important factors to consider when training your pelvic floor.

If you’re having any pelvic floor issues or would simply like to know how to correctly train your pelvic floor muscles, don’t hesitate to make an appointment with our Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapists. Call our wonderful reception team on 08 93280500 to arrange an appointment.

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