The pelvic floor: a small group of muscles with a big responsibility!
Ever wonder why your friends do Kegel exercises after having a baby? Or why some people need to rush to the toilet when arriving home? Or even why some women might feel pelvic heaviness after a high intensity workout? It’s all about the pelvic floor muscles and how effectively they are working to keep you dry and keep your organs supported!
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that sit between the pubic bone and the tailbone. They surround the urethra, vagina and back passage in women and the urethra and back passage in men. They play a large role in keeping you dry, keeping your organs supported (preventing prolapse) and help with sexual sensation and function.
When these muscles weaken in men, it is usually caused by heavy lifting, straining on the toilet, prostate surgery or obesity. Men may experience symptoms of weakness such as urine leakage with exertion, urgency to urinate, rectal prolapse or obstructed defecation (problems emptying the bowels properly).
Women are much more likely to have a weak pelvic floor due to the amount of damage incurred during childbirth. Factors such as perineal tearing, vacuum or forceps extraction, long 2nd stage of labour, large birth weight and multiple births (more than 4) can all exacerbate the stretch and damage to these muscles.
Other factors in women’s lifestyles that contribute to weakness, include:
- Menopause (reduced oestrogen can cause localised changes in the pelvic organs causing the risk of leaking to be higher).
- Chronic straining on the toilet or constipation
- Heavy lifting
- Chronic coughing/sneezing
- High impact activity
Pelvic floor weakness in women can cause symptoms such as:
So Kegel exercises (which are strengthening exercises for the pelvic floor) generally help for most of these symptoms!
In fact, research has shown that women get the most benefit from Kegels if they have a supervised program of exercises given by a trained continence physiotherapist.
But Kegel’s aren’t the answer for everyone…
A minority of women with prolapse and leaking symptoms, have tight pelvic floor muscles. These women often have difficulty urinating or emptying their bowels as well as tightness and pain with sex. Women with a tight pelvic floor who do Kegels can actually worsen their symptoms!
So if you are experiencing a problem with your pelvic floor – the best solution is to have an individualised assessment by a trained health professional like a continence physiotherapist, who can tailor a treatment program according to your body’s needs!
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