Meet Your Pelvic Floor

Inflamed pelvic floor

Meet your pelvic floor!

Are you never sure whether to trust a sneeze, a cough or a laugh for fear of below-the-belt leakage? Do you find that no matter how fast you sprint to the loo, your bladder (or even your bowels) decides that it is no longer an organ with a function, but a delightful water feature for your underpants? Well, you’re in good company – many people’s pelvic floor muscles can become weak for all kinds of reasons. It is a surprisingly common issue, and something that can be improved.

What are the pelvic floor muscles and what do they do?

The pelvic floor muscles are essential in stabilising your pelvic girdle, which contains the bladder and bowel. They also play a role in sexual function and are important to be aware of during intercourse – you could maybe even educate your partner on its existence too. Nothing says romance quite like the word “girdle”, after all.

The pelvic floor consists of multiple layers of muscles and ligaments which attach between your pubic and coccyx bones work in unison to support the bladder, womb and bowels, not unlike a muscly hammock. Although this article is mostly aimed at women, men also have a similar sling of pelvic floor muscles and can benefit from pelvic floor exercises if they have any weaknesses or prostate dysfunctions. Get those girdles stabilised, lads! #StrongSlingFam

When healthy, your pelvic floor muscles are meant to remain strong and slightly tensed to prevent any cheeky leakage of urine, faeces and flatulence. When you visit the porcelain throne, the pelvic floor muscles relax, and afterwards, they are meant to tighten again to regain their control. In some people however, these muscles are weak and not quite as able to quickly spring back to action.

The bones of the pelvic floor

What causes weakness of the pelvic floor?

A weakness in the pelvic floor can be caused by a variety of reasons, including:

  • Pregnancy – from supporting the heavy additional weight when you’re growing an actual human inside your womb like a freaking magician
  • Childbirth – due to overstretching or tearing of these muscles….from expelling an actual human from your body like a freaking magician
  • Obesity – from the pressure of additional weight
  • Chronic constipation – from associated straining to pass bowel motions
  • Regular coughing – from overuse and stress put on the pelvic floor each time you cough
  • Abdominal surgery – due to lack of use during the recovery period

The pelvic floor and sexual dysfunction

Pelvic floor issues aren’t always down to muscle weakness can be attributed to more of a spasm – the pelvic floor can play a role in sexual dysfunction in a lot of women. Tight contraction of the muscles and an inability to relax the pelvic floor can cause pain in women during sexual intercourse. We have some exercises you can do to combat this, but make sure you visit your doctor first to rule out any other causes of your pain.

If you think your pelvic floor is spasming during “night-time cuddles” with the other half, we’d advise that you stick to the “identifying” section of our exercises below to help you learn where your cranky muscles are and how to relax them. Additionally, you can insert a thumb inside the vagina and self-massage the pelvic floor to aid the relaxation of the muscles in spasm.

Identifying the pelvic floor

If, like many women, you’re still learning about what the pelvic floor is and what it does, we imaging you may also need pointers on how to identify it.  As these muscles are inside the pelvic *sensual whisper*…girdle, you shouldn’t actually experience any physical effort or strain when trying to squeeze or relax them. When looking for the elusive pelvic floor, your stomach, legs and buttocks should all be relaxed and you should be breathing regularly. No clenching or panting required. Hurrah! Below is a step-by-step process on how to identify your pelvic floor:

  1. Sit or lay down comfortably with your legs and buttocks relaxed. Pretend you’re in a lovely hammock, as opposed to trying to locate one near your lady region or man…area(?!).
  2. Imagine that you are sitting on the toilet (or ensconce yourself on an actual toilet, but don’t do this exercise on the loo too regularly, for reasons we’ll go into in a bit) and you are about to pass urine. Feel momentarily smug that imaginary you made it to the loo without incident or leakage – it’s important to celebrate small victories wherever we can. Go imaginary you!
  3. As you imagine yourself passing the urine, squeeze the muscles that you usually use to stop the flow of urine. These are your pelvic floor muscles. Reader, meet pelvic floor, pelvic floor, meet Reader. This could be the start of a beautiful, co-operative relationship.
  4. Try squeezing the muscles around your back passage which you would use if you were trying not to pass wind. These are also your pelvic floor! Your back door pelvic floor, if you will.
  5. You can then try squeezing the whole pelvic floor at once as in steps 3 and 4.
  6. When performing these exercises, you should be aware of your skin and muscles tightening in your pelvic region and lifting away from the chair you are sat on. It is easy to use activate other muscles like the glutes, so make sure to isolate it only to your pelvic floor, so the contraction is coming from those alone.
  7. To ensure that you’ve identified the muscles correctly, you can insert a thumb into the vagina and you should feel a gentle squeeze when you contract the muscles. Now that you guys have made acquaintances, it’s only logical for you to shake hands (kind of). Gentlemen…probably just a friendly wave hello will suffice.

Exercises for the pelvic floor

As well as the pelvic floor, osteopaths can help identify any other muscle weaknesses that may need addressing such as the adductors and the core and low back stabilisers.

It’s essential for both women and men to perform exercises to gain optimal control of the pelvic floor area. Try not to squeeze and relax these muscles too much when you pass urine, as sometimes this can prevent full bladder emptying and lead to urinary tract infections. For anyone who has been lucky enough not to have experienced a UTI, count your blessings, my friend. No one wants the feeling that they’re urinating liquid fire. Ouch.

woman lying peacefullyThe exercises used to strengthen the pelvic floor are named Kegel exercises. You can power up your Kegels by combining them with core exercises, however this should be done with care, and only after being assessed by a medical professional.

  1. Sit or lay down with your body as relaxed as possible (maybe visualise being fed cake on your holidays whilst being read to by David Attenborough. Or something. Whatever you need – no judgement here). Slowly and gradually squeeze the pelvic floor, which by now, you should at least be casual acquaintances with if you’ve carried out the previous exercise.
  2. Try and squeeze the pelvic floor as hard as you can for as long as you feel comfortable.
  3. Rest for 10 seconds, then perform this again.
  4. Initially start by doing 3-5 of these contractions and then build up the strength to performing 10 slow contractions in a row. Make sure not to build up too fast and over-exert yourself. This is something you should build up over a few weeks – this is not a muscle you want to pull!
  5. After doing the slow contractions, practise doing quick strong contractions and then relaxing immediately. These will help you respond to sudden stresses such as laughing or coughing!
  6. Again, start by doing 3-5 of these and build up to 10 in a row, with 10 second rests in between.
  7. These exercises can be performed 3-5 times a day. Or whenever you want to amuse yourself at the office because no one knows what you’re really doing while you’re staring blankly at those spreadsheets and counting to 10 in your head. Heehee.

It is important to remember that strength in any muscle doesn’t suddenly develop overnight, so don’t expect an immediate quick fix after a day of exercises. If you want a bullet proof bladder hammock (not exactly the scientific name, but we think it could catch on…), perseverance with regular exercises over the course of a few months is the way to go!

Other things you can do to help yourself along your way include drinking plenty of water each day, avoiding caffeine and keeping your weight healthy. These will reduce any unnecessary strains or pressure on your bladder. You can also train the muscles of your bladder by waiting that little bit longer than usual until you feel your bladder is actually full before you pop to the toilet (don’t wait too long, though; It can quite painful if you overdo it) rather than going as soon as you think you may need to.

Any Questions?

If there’s anything else you’d like to know more about this or any other muscle/soft tissue related topic, give us a call or book in to see us so that we can assess your body’s needs and provide you with further exercise and postural advice to combat your problem! We look forward to hearing from you.

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