The pelvic muscles are a sling of support for the bladder, bowel, and uterus. When they contract, the organs are lifted and the openings to the vagina, anus, and urethra are tightened. When the muscles are relaxed, urine and faeces can be released from the body.
They also play an important role during pregnancy. The pelvic floor muscles support the baby and assist in the birthing process. Pregnancy and childbirth can cause the pelvic floor muscles to weaken, and so can other factors like age, obesity, heavy lifting, and chronic coughing.
Up to a third of women suffer from some kind of pelvic floor issues in their lifetime. The most common are stress urinary incontinence (leaking when you cough, sneeze, run etc) and pelvic organ prolapse (a feeling of something coming down in the vagina).
The muscles of the pelvic floor are supported by ligaments especially when intra-abdominal pressure increases during activities such as lifting, carrying, or straining. This increase in abdominal pressure causes your pelvic floor and core muscles to brace to stop your internal organs descending into the pelvis.
Just like any other muscle the pelvic floor can be weak, slow to react, too tight or torn.
Here are a few things that can impact the pelvic floor:
- Childbirth – when giving birth if you have an assisted vaginal birth, tear, or a very large baby this can cause weakness in your pelvic floor. Therefore, it is so important pregnant women do they pelvic floor exercises to help these muscles contract and relax.
- Heavy lifting – if you are consistently lifting and bracing your core and pelvic floor this can cause increased intra-abdominal pressure and puts strain on the pelvic floor
- Chronic constipation – if you are constantly having to push hard when you need to ‘go’ this can cause overstretching and weakness. IT may also be you need to learn to relax the pelvic floor.
- High impact exercise – things like excessive heavy lifting, jumping and vigorous exercise can overload your pelvic floor.
- Obese – being overweight means that you put extra pressure on your pelvic floor to support your weight
- Menopause – the menopause and fluctuation sin hormones can cause issues for your pelvic floor
What are the symptoms that indicate it’s not working so well?
Wetting yourself, lower back pain, painful sex, struggling to insert or hold in tampons, feelings of heaviness, pelvic pain, unable to control wind and bowel incontinence.
Who can I talk to about my issues?
The best person to talk to would be your GP, if you don’t, for any reason want to do this, try contacting a women’s health physio.
What can I do to help my Pelvic floor?
So glad you asked! Pilates is an exercise program where you pelvic floor plays a starring role instead of being an afterthought. In my Pilates classes we talk about how to engage the pelvic floor, when to engage the pelvic floor and importantly how to relax the pelvic floor also. Using your pelvic floor is linked to breathing, every Pilates exercise has a breath pattern which optimally encourages you to train your pelvic floor.