We don’t talk enough about our Pelvic Floor and how important it is to keep strengthening our pelvic floor muscles. Yet, 32% of women in their 50s are impacted by one or more dysfunction which can have a huge impact on their life and naturally also their confidence. 68% of postmenopausal women reported not being informed about the pelvic floor, which highlights just how important it is to have conversations about this topic.
Let’s start to unpick of what the pelvic floor muscles are: Your pelvic floor consists of muscles and connective tissues that support important organs in your pelvis, like your bladder, bowel (large intestine) and internal reproductive organs. Your pelvic floor muscles hold these organs in place while also providing the flexibility to assist with bodily functions like peeing, pooping and sex. Along with other key muscle groups in your torso, or core, your pelvic floor muscles allow your body to absorb outside pressure (from lifting, coughing, etc.) in a way that protects your spine and your organs. At the same time, these muscles help you control your bowel and bladder function (continence)
Any misalignment within this structure will have a domino effect. Upwards through the spine and downwards through the legs. When the pelvis can’t move through its natural pattern, the muscles around it will get overworked, resulting in tightness and pain such as lower back and knee pain, or tightness in the hips and hamstrings. But a misaligned pelvis can also have more severe effects such as contributing to Pelvic Floor Dysfunction, which is a common concern amongst menopausal women. Any misalignment within the lumbopelvic complex can cause the pelvic floor muscles (PFM) to be unable to function correctly and the Dysfunction can occure.
What are the common conditions and disorders associated with pelvic floor muscles?
Multiple pelvic floor disorders can result from having overly relaxed or weakened pelvic floor muscles. But, excessively tight muscles cause problems, too. The goal is balance. Your pelvic floor muscles should be strong enough to stabilize your core and secure your organs but flexible enough to stretch and relax.
Weak (too loose) pelvic floor muscles
Pelvic floor muscles can weaken as a result of injury or trauma, including childbirth and surgery. They can become stressed during pregnancy or from overuse (repeated heavy lifting, chronic coughing, constipation). Often the get weaker through the hormonal change during menopause and lose strength as the natural ageing process. Conditions like diabetes may also play a role in weakening pelvic floor muscles.
Weak pelvic floor muscles can lead to the following conditions:
- Stress incontinence: Peeing or dribbling when you laugh, cough, sneeze or lift. It’s more common after childbirth, following prostate surgery or when there’s been an injury to your pelvis.
- Urge incontinence: Feeling the frequent urge to pee and being unable to hold it.
- Fecal incontinence: Struggling to control bowel movements.
- Anal incontinence: Struggling to control when you pass gas.
- Pelvic organ prolapse: Unsupported pelvic organs, like your uterus, rectum and bladder bulging into your vagina or causing a protrusion from the opening of your vagina.
Common signs and symptoms of having weakened pelvic floor muscles include struggling to control when you pee, poop or pass gas (incontinence).
Too tight pelvic muscles
Less is known about the conditions associated with having pelvic muscles that are too tight, also known as hypertonic pelvic floor. But having pelvic muscles with too little give can lead to constipation or difficulty moving your bowels, pelvic pain, back or hip/leg pain, painful intercourse, and difficulty peeing, urinary urgency/frequency.
Pelvic muscles that are too tight may be associated with sexual trauma, other types of trauma or accidents, childbirth, stress, and other gynecologic conditions.
What simple lifestyle changes can you make to keep your pelvic floor muscles healthy?
Depending on your health, you can benefit from doing Kegel exercises regularly to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. The benefits include improved muscle control to help with continence and increased sexual function. Historically, most people have thought of Kegels as increasing sexual satisfaction for people with vaginas. Recent research suggests that the sexual benefits may apply to everyone, regardless of gender. However, you shouldn’t try to do Kegels without your GP’s guidance. For instance, you shouldn’t attempt Kegels if you’ve recently injured or strained your pelvic floor muscles (ex. during childbirth).
It’s essential that you’re exercising the correct muscles when you’re doing Kegels. Follow the guidance of your GP or a physical therapist to ensure you’re exercising the right muscles and contracting/relaxing them the right way.
You can exercise your pelvic floor muscles while you’re seated, standing or lying down.
- Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles for eight seconds, taking care not to squeeze your butt, thighs or any other muscle. Be intentional about breathing freely as you squeeze.
- Relax your pelvic floor muscles for eight seconds. The relaxation part of Kegels is just as important as the squeezing part. Continue to breathe freely.
- Complete this sequence (squeeze for eight seconds, relax for eight seconds) eight more times.
Repeat this exercise three times a day. Work in your Kegels when they’re most likely to become part of a routine you’ve already established such as while you’re brushing your teeth in the morning, when you’re checking social media during lunch or when you’re driving home from work, etc.
At first, you may have to aim for three seconds of squeezing and relaxing instead of eight seconds. Over time, you may increase your time from eight seconds to 12 seconds of squeezing and relaxing as you improve. Start slow and gradually increase your time to avoid straining your muscles.
Within four to six months, you should notice more strength in your pelvic floor muscles.
The NHS has developed a fantastic app called Squeezy that can support you if you are unsure how to perform the exercise.
One last note: don’t wait until you notice some leakage or other problems to start taking care of your Pelvic Floor. Exercising your pelvic muscles gives you more control over your bladder and your bowel function. And on a more positive note Pelvic floor exercises can potentially improve sexual function, arousal and the intensity of your orgasms, too. And who doesn’t like a good orgasm. Make maintaining your pelvic floor muscles part of your exercise routine. 🙂
In that sense, Happy Squeezing!