Taking Care of Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
The pelvic floor consists of a layer of muscles that provide support to the pelvic organs – the bladder and bowel in men, and the bladder, bowel, and uterus in women. There are three vital roles performed by pelvic floor muscles:
- Supports the pelvic organs – bladder, bowel, and uterus
- Control bowel, bladder, and sexual function
- Work with the deep abdominal muscles and diaphragm for spinal stability
Importance of Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercises
Imagine your pelvic floor organs as a boat resting in the water, and the water to be your pelvic floor providing support to your organs from below. The boat is also anchored to the jetty by ropes (your connective tissues) which support the boat from above.
A weak pelvic floor is like the boat sitting on “low water”, putting extra tension on the connective tissue and ligaments. If this continues on, the ligaments can overstretch and become weaker. Greater tension on the ligaments may lead to prolapse, where the pelvic organs begin to slip down.
Common Signs and Symptoms of a Pelvic Floor Disorder
- Accidental leaking of urine during exercise, laughing, sneezing or coughing
- Needing to go to the bathroom more frequently
- Sudden urgency to go to the bathroom, and sometimes not making it on time
- Difficulty emptying bladder or bowel
- Unintentional loss of wind or feces
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Women generally report a “bulging” feeling into the vagina, heaviness or discomfort, or a sensation of pulling or dropping
- Men tend to report a bulging feeling into the rectum, and the sensation of needing to empty their bowels but not actually needing to
Who is at Risk?
- Pregnant women, or women who have ever given birth
- Menopausal or post-menopausal women
- Women who have had gynecological surgery (e.g. hysterectomy), or men who have had surgical treatment for prostate cancer
- People with a chronic respiratory condition, or a chronic cough
The Risk Also Extends to Individuals Who…
- Are overweight or have a Body Mass Index > 25
- Do heavy lifting regularly (at the gym or at work)
- Have a history of constipation
- Experienced back pain
- Suffered from pelvic trauma (e.g. from a fall, pelvic radiotherapy)
How to “Squeeze and Lift”
- Squeeze and draw the muscle around your vagina and back passage at the same time – you should feel a lifting sensation. For men, imaging drawing in your “nuts to guts”.
- Hold this contraction as tightly as you can for 10 seconds – if you’re unable to hold for 10, just hold for as long as you can.
- Let the contraction go and relax.
- Repeat the “squeeze and lift”, and let it go. Try to complete 3 sets of 8 – 12 repetitions throughout the day.
It’s important that this exercise is done correctly. If you are having difficulty, speak to our physiotherapist to help you understand the action that is required of your pelvic floor, and provide you with tips to help you master this contraction.