The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that run from the pubic bone to the tailbone and ischial tuberosities (sit bones), and it functions to maintain bowel and bladder continence, provide support to the pelvic organs, stabilizes the spine and pelvis, and contributes to sexual satisfaction. These muscles must be able to contract to maintain continence and relax to allow for urination, bowel movements, and in women, sexual intercourse.
Like all muscles in our body, pelvic floor muscles can get weak or suffer from dysfunction and get tight. If you have pelvic floor weakness, you may experience symptoms like:
- Leaking urine when coughing, sneezing, laughing or running
- Failing to reach the toilet in time
- Reduced sensation in the vagina
- Sensing bulge at the vaginal opening
- Erectile dysfunction
- Accidentally passing wind
Some of the symptoms associated with pelvic floor dysfunction include:
- Urge to urinate and painful urination
- Lower back pain
- Genital or rectum pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse for women
When someone has a pelvic floor health problem, they often suffer in silence. Many are embarrassed to talk about incontinence, a prolapse, or sexual dysfunction, and even believe that it’s a natural part of aging. But nothing could be further from the truth!
Women should know that pelvic pain is not normal in any stage in life. Getting treatment early is important. The longer a woman experiences chronic pain, the more likely the nerve receptors will become sensitized to it. This heightens the body’s reaction to pain, often making it more severe and more difficult to treat. So, if you’re suffering from unexplained chronic pelvic pain, it may be wise to consult a pelvic health expert.
Just as people exercise and eat well to help prevent heart disease, obesity and diabetes, they can also work to improve their pelvic health throughout their lives. Here are some tips for pelvic health at every age:
- Strengthen your pelvic floor.
- Meditation and guided relaxation can help loosen overly tight pelvic muscles.
- Avoid constipation by consuming ample fluids and fiber and exercising regularly.
- Dietary changes can improve stool consistency, which can help with bowel leakages or painful constipation.
- Avoid prolonged toileting.
- Avoid straining or pushing during bowel movements and when urinating.
- Decrease intake of caffeine, alcohol and artificial sweeteners.
- Learn how to relax the muscles in the pelvic floor area. For example, take warm baths and practice yoga.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid heavy lifting, which can lead to organ prolapse.
- Don’t smoke.
- Consider pelvic physiotherapy.
Pelvic physiotherapy can help not only with myofascial pelvic pain but also reduce symptoms of other conditions caused by pelvic floor problems, such as urinary and fecal incontinence, painful intercourse, and sexual dysfunction. For myofascial pain, a specially trained physiotherapist uses her hands to perform external and internal manipulations of the pelvic floor muscles, which are accessed through the woman’s vagina or rectum. Relaxing contracted and shortened muscles can help alleviate pain in the pelvic floor, just as it would in other muscles in the body. As such, it is important to know the cause of your pelvic floor dysfunction before engaging in a pelvic floor rehabilitation program. A pelvic floor physiotherapist can assess this for you. Doing Kegel exercises may not always be the best course of action, and may even worsen your symptoms.
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