The pelvic floor. That unseen but often-felt body part, the mere mention of which at certain times in life elicits a knowing look and, often, a pee-related quip.
But though people may make self-deprecating jokes about the shortcomings of their pelvic floor, for those who suffer with its symptoms it’s really no laughing matter.
A weakened pelvic floor is usually associated with pregnancy, but pelvic floor problems can affect both men and women for a number of different reasons.
Understanding the function of the pelvic floor helps to understand the physical and emotional impact that occurs when it is compromised. The pelvic floor is a layer of muscles that support the pelvic organs – the bowel and bladder in men and the bowel, bladder and uterus in women.
Problems occur when that layer of supporting muscle is either damaged by being stretched or weakened in some way or becomes too tight (perhaps by going into spasm).
The effects are varied. Some are well-known – accidentally leaking urine during exercise or when coughing or sneezing, experiencing a sudden and urgent need to urinate or having difficulty passing a bowel movement. Others are less well-documented – incomplete emptying of the bladder or bowel, accidentally passing wind or suffering a prolapse.
But whatever the symptom or collection of symptoms you have, experiencing problems relating to your pelvic floor can be distressing and, at times, embarrassing.
So, who’s at risk of experiencing pelvic floor issues?
As we’ve already mentioned, pelvic floor problems most commonly affect women, with childbirth as a primary common cause of the core muscle group losing shape and elasticity. Being overweight can also put strain on your pelvic floor and age can also be a contributing factor, especially if you don’t take time to exercise them.
But elite athletes are also particularly prone to experiencing poor pelvic floor control, particularly in sports like gymnastics and trampolining and especially in high impact sports such as basketball, netball, running and volleyball where the constant downward pressure on the pelvic floor accelerates a weakening of those muscles.
Many people live with the symptoms in the mistaken belief that there’s no effective treatment to resolve the problem. In fact, pelvic floor conditions can be treated very effectively.
Pelvic health treatment programmes delivered by a professionally-trained and experienced physiotherapist can help you restore strength to all your abdominal muscles, including your pelvic floor, allowing you to regain control of your body whilst also getting into better general health.
Moreover, we can also give you pelvic safe exercises to do at home to maintain muscle health and protect you from suffering a relapse in pelvic function.
Here at West 1 Physio, we also specialise in assessing women both antenatally and postnatally, helping to minimise muscle stress and relieving pelvic pain during pregnancy and after childbirth.
We always recommend women have a regular pelvic check up to stay in the best possible health. And between checks, here are some tips on looking after your pelvic floor:
- Avoid heavy lifting, particularly from ground level: the aim is to build your pelvic floor strength gradually, which means exercises that increase resistance in an incremental and planned way. You should never try to lift anything that causes you to hold your breath.
- Warm up your pelvic floor muscles to protect them during exercise: you should warm up your pelvic floor just as you would any other muscle group prior to exercise
- Look after your posture, especially when bending or lifting: poor posture, particularly when lifting, can contribute to pelvic floor damage
- Choose activities that offer supported positions: choose exercises that require you to sit or lie down if you can, as resistance is lower. Using an exercise ball to sit on is also a good option
- Let your breathing take the strain: if you exhale on every effort, you reduce the risk of damaging your pelvic floor. Never hold your breath or pull your stomach in when exerting yourself.
By following a safe exercise regime and undergoing planned rehabilitative physiotherapy, you can kiss goodbye to your pelvic floor problems and their symptoms and maintain an exercise plan that keeps you healthy.
If you’re experiencing pelvic floor issues or are interested in our women’s health services, we’d love to hear from you. Just head on over to our contact page to find out how to get in touch.
© Grace Keene for West 1 Physio
Grace Keene is a senior Physiotherapist at West 1 Physio, specialising in conditions related to the pelvic floor, hip or groin. As part of a unique network of leading orthopaedic and urogynaecology consultants, she works to provide seamless high-quality care for her patients.