Guest post By Jen Dugard
Ok ladies, it is time to get schooled and learn everything you need to know about pelvic floor. And yes, you really do need to read this, trust me. Over to you Jen!
- One in three women who have ever had a baby wet themselves
- Only 50% of women can perform a correct pelvic floor contraction with a verbal cue
Your pelvic floor muscles are the layer of muscles that support the pelvic organs, i.e. bladder, bowel and uterus. These muscles stretch from your tailbone to the pubic bone (front and back) and from sitting bone to sitting bone (side to side) so they are a big layer of muscle that support the organs that lie on them. The pelvic floor muscles also work with your abdominal and back muscles to stabilise your spine so they are very important in both continence and core control.
- What do the pelvic floor muscles do?
- Assist in closing off the bladder and anus
Help to hold the bladder, uterus and bowel in place especially under force such as coughing, sneezing, lifting, laughing and during exercise
- Assist in sexual function and orgasm
- Assist in lumbo pelvic stability
When the baby moves down the birth canal it is stretched and the pelvic floor muscles are also stretched at this time. This can leave these muscles weak and not able to keep the bladder and bowel from leaking. In worst cases this can lead to a prolapse of your internal organs.
An INCORRECT pelvic floor contraction might include:
- Bracing of abdominal wall
- Squeezing your bum cheeks together
- Squeezing or tensing your thighs
- Holding your breath
It is important to learn to perform pelvic floor exercises properly in order to strengthen the correct muscles rather than using others to compensate.
How to contract your pelvic floor
- Lie flat on your back, knees bent and feet flat on the floor
- Keep your back passage relaxed and draw gently upwards through your front passage – some women respond well to the cue ‘trying to stop the flow of urine’ others to ‘imagine you have inserted a tampon and are gently drawing it upwards’
- Ensure you are keeping all other muscles nice and relaxed
- See if you can breathe through your pelvic floor contraction and continue to hold
- You should then also make sure you can relax your pelvic floor muscles
- It is important to make sure you are not bearing down or pushing out rather than contracting
How do I know I’m doing it properly?
The very best way for you to know for sure that you are performing your pelvic floor exercises properly is for you to work with a Women’s Health Physiotherapist. They can use Real Time Ultrasound to assess what you are doing. You will also gain visual feedback and see what your muscles are doing which is very helpful for most women.
Does everyone need to do pelvic floor exercises?
As with any other exercise your specific pelvic floor exercise prescription can be very personalised. It is true that if you have had a baby you will need to go through a pelvic floor rehabilitation period but what you should do and how you should do it is much harder to generalise. Learning how to properly contract your pelvic floor is the first step and any pelvic floor weakness you are experiencing will not just ‘fix itself”.
Telltale signs of a weak pelvic floor might include; any leaking of urine or faeces, having to get to the toilet quickly (urge incontinence), dragging, heaviness or a vaginal bulge, lack of sexual sensation and orgasm.
What should I avoid?
If you feel you have a pelvic floor weakness certain exercises and situations are worth avoiding. Running, jumping and jogging should be taken out of your routine for the time being. Certain squatting exercises, heavy lifting and anything you do that makes you feel like you are ‘bearing down’ should be kept to a minimum until you have sought help and advice from a health professional. A general rule I like to abide by when exercising is asking myself ‘can I contract my pelvic floor during this exercise and can I release?’. If you can feel a difference between contracting and releasing then you are most likely to be fine to continue. If you feel no difference again you probably want to pull back a little until you have retrained your pelvic floor further and it can ‘keep up with you’.
Keep in mind ‘train to the weakest link’ – at this time that may be your pelvic floor.
Every woman is different and if you have any uncertainty at all or are unsure of what you are doing it is important that you speak to a health professional. I can’t stress enough that you should NOT suffer in silence – although a pelvic floor weakness will not suddenly just fix itself there are things that we can do to combat any issues you may be having.