A healthy pelvic floor is a balance of relaxation, strength and a positive attitude to this intimate part of ourselves.
Good pelvic floor health is an important part of:
- general fitness and strength training
- greater sexual sensation and pleasure
- pregnancy, childbirth and postnatal recovery
- general pelvic and genital health
- good bladder and bowel function
- recovery from surgery
- overall sense of wholeness and wellbeing
The Pelvic Region
The pelvis and pelvic floor includes the bones, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues, nerves, blood vessels, and the genitals and pelvic organs. These structures interact with each other. There can be problems of weak pelvic floor muscles, nerve entrapment, instability or stiffness of lower back and pelvic joints, parts that feel too loose or too tight, prolapsed organs, restricted blood flow, decreased sexual sensation and function.
The Pelvic Floor Muscles
The pelvic floor muscles are an important part in the management and restoration of pelvic health.
The pelvic floor muscles are a small group of muscles at the base of the pelvis. These muscles sit between the pubic bone at the front, the tailbone at the back and between the ‘sit bones‘ at each side. They form part of the ‘core’ of the trunk, and work in harmony with the deep abdominal, hip, respiratory and back muscles. The ‘core’ provides stability for the trunk of the body.
Some of the pelvic floor muscles are just under the skin on the outside but most are inside. This can make it difficult, at first, to know if you are correctly exercising them because they’re mostly hidden from view. However, you can definitely learn to ‘feel’ them contracting and relaxing with proper instruction and practise.
Strengthening Pelvic Floor Muscles
It’s important that the pelvic floor is sufficiently strong so that the body can move about and exercise without leakage. Developing good core strength requires good pelvic floor strength. If the pelvic floor is a ‘weak link’ in the core system, further weakening can happen over time with activities that put pressure on them. Strong abdominal exercise, heavy lifting, chronic straining (e.g. constipation, chronic coughing), resuming strong exercise too early after childbirth or surgery, can all cause a downward pressure and lead to worsening incontinence, prolapse or pain problems.
Relaxing Pelvic Floor Muscles
Pelvic floor muscle strength also requires pelvic floor relaxation ability. Full relaxation is an essential part of any training programme. Tightness in the pelvis and pelvic floor is often related to pain and anxiety – just like anywhere else in the body. Sometimes it’s as simple as noticing how the it ‘feels’ to relax the pelvis and pelvic floor. Other times full relaxation and flexibility is found by slowing down, bringing a sensitive focus to the area, learning relaxed natural breathing, often in combination with release techniques or stretches. Self massage and biofeedback devices are available to assist in strength and relaxation training.
Treatment for Pelvic Floor Muscles
Correct diagnosis and treatment will help restore good pelvic and pelvic floor health. It’s never too late – muscles are muscles and tone can improve, no matter your age or how long since you last exercised them. Treatment involves working with the pelvic floor muscles, often along with other techniques such as posture correction, pelvic alignment, soft tissue and manual therapy, home exercises, biofeedback, vaginal weights and addressing related bladder and bowel problems.