How Can I Strengthen My Pelvic Floor?

Strengthen pelvic floor muscles

Do you want to learn how to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles?

Pelvic floor issues are common in both men and women, but because of the effects of childbirth and labor, we do tend to see them more often in women. However, they can and do regularly occur in both sexes at any time, utterly unconnected to pregnancy. 

You might be thinking, what can I do about it?

Well, one way to overcome pelvic floor issues and strengthen the muscles is to include pelvic floor exercises (like Kegel exercises) in your daily routine. These exercises can help strengthen the all-important pelvic floor and potentially alleviate problems like pelvic organ prolapse, urinary stress incontinence, painful sex, and more.  

However, if you think your pelvic floor muscles are especially weak and your symptoms severe, then we recommend you seek help from a pelvic floor physical therapist because it might not solve the problem if you are told to “just do Kegel exercises.”

But if you want to learn how to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, here’s the inside “scoop” (more on that later).

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What Is The Pelvic Floor?

What is the pelvic floor?

As we commonly refer to it, the “pelvic floor” comprises fibrous connective tissues and muscles. These connective tissues that make up the pelvic floor are joined to the bones of the lower pelvis.

The hammock-like pelvic floor’s most crucial role is to support and affix the pelvic organs – the bladder, urethra, rectum, and intestines in males and females – with the addition of the vagina, cervix, and uterus in women. 

What Is The Function of The Pelvic Floor?

The pelvic floor muscles play a vital role in our daily lives. They keep the urethra, anus, prostate, bladder, cervix, intestines, vagina, and rectum in their proper position.

The muscles in the pelvic floor also play a critical role in our sexual well-being and functioning, including achieving orgasm and sexual arousal. They also provide stability to the trunk and hips when standing and walking and play a crucial role in preventing fecal and urinary incontinence. 

Unfortunately, in women specifically, the pelvic floor muscles can weaken due to pregnancy or childbirth, which leads to medical issues, pain, discomfort, and possible pelvic organ prolapse. But pregnancy and childbirth are not the only factors in pelvic floor weakness and dysfunction.

Other causes of pelvic floor issues include menopause, aging, sitting for extended periods, excessive weight and obesity, and frequently lifting heavy loads. In addition, specific other medical problems like irritable bowel syndrome, endometriosis, and interstitial cystitis, among others, can also cause pelvic floor dysfunction.  

How To Find Your Pelvic Floor Muscles

Finding the pelvic floor

It might sound strange if you’re unfamiliar with your pelvic floor muscles or where to locate them. But the best way to find your pelvic floor muscles is to do what you do when trying to reduce or stop urine flow when you visit the bathroom. It feels like a “clenching” or “lifting” sensation if you’re targeting the right muscles.  

Another way to locate your pelvic floor muscles is to lie down with your knees bent and your feet in a flat position on the floor and then inhale. When exhaling, contract the lower abdomen muscles and squeeze the muscles as you would stop the flow of urine or gas. Hold the position for around 2 seconds and release. This should make you release the pelvic floor muscles. 

As the muscles extend over the bottom of the pelvis, when engaging the pelvic floor, it is essential to contract both the muscles that control the flow of gas and urine for a proper contraction – not just the “front” or “back” muscles in isolation. 

When you engage the muscles that stop gas and urine together, this extra step helps strengthen the entirety of the pelvic floor muscles. When you use these muscles, it also helps contract your abdominal contractions better to build a stronger core. If you’ve ever done Pilates, you will have heard the instructor talk about the abdominal “scoop.”

The scoop is the starting position for all Pilates exercises. It involves pulling your belly button back towards your spine and contracting your pelvic floor muscles as well as your lower abdominal muscles and your glutes, all at the same time. 

When you learn to contract and release these muscles correctly, it helps to make sure that your pelvic floor is strong and functioning well. It can also help prevent dysfunction and problems commonly associated with weak pelvic floor muscles, such as incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. 

If you do these “contract and release” exercises repetitively several times a day, you will begin to tone the pelvic floor muscles and build even greater strength over time. In addition, you can do them while standing or sitting – at work, on public transport, in the car. Nobody will even know you’re doing them.

What Is Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?

If your pelvic floor muscles are not functioning correctly or become weak and are unable to offer adequate support to your pelvic organs, it can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction. Some of these disorders include fecal or urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and an overactive bladder, leading to painful sex. 

Although many women never get an official diagnosis because they ignore the signs and symptoms and put it down to “being a woman,” so it is hard to estimate the numbers involved, many many women are affected by pelvic floor dysfunction

But sadly, many associate the dysfunctions as part of pregnancy, childbirth, or just the aging process and leave the conditions to fester untreated.

Overall, studies show that around 1 out of 4 women experience pelvic floor dysfunction at some time in their lives, and the number increases more substantially as we get older. But it isn’t just older women that suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction; further studies indicate that approximately 50% of women experience pelvic floor disorders during their youth and middle-age years.

Scientists expect this number to rise in the coming years due to an increase in obesity, poor lifestyle choices, and lack of activity. And while many men feel that pelvic floor dysfunction won’t affect them, studies suggest that pelvic floor dysfunctions also afflict around 16% of men. 

But what are the symptoms?

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction Symptoms

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

The symptoms of weak pelvic floor muscles are wide and varied. But if you have one or more of the following symptoms, you may benefit from specialized pelvic floor physical therapy to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles:

  • You need to urinate more often and experience pain when urinating
  • You have bowel problems like constipation or anal leakage
  • You have pain in the genitals or around the pelvic area
  • You suffer from urinary or fecal incontinence 
  • You have a feeling of “fullness” or pressure in the pelvic area
  • You have persistent pain in the lower back 
  • Your bladder does not empty completely 
  • You have urinary leakage
  • You get muscle spasms in the pelvic region 
  • You experience pain during sexual intercourse

What Is The Treatment for Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?

Helping to strengthen pelvic floor

There are many ways to treat pelvic floor disorders that help alleviate the discomfort, pain, and embarrassing symptoms without resorting to surgery.

But the #1 most effective treatment for pelvic floor problems is to consult a pelvic floor therapist. We’re able to pinpoint precisely the issue that is causing your symptoms and devise a series of therapeutic exercises for you to perform to relieve your symptoms, restore proper functioning and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. 

This targeted therapy isn’t the same as just “doing Kegels” at home either because we guide you through the exercises to make sure you use the correct form and target the right muscles. In addition, we employ many other professional techniques to help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and obliterate your embarrassing symptoms too. 

When to Consult a Doctor 

When to get help

While learning to do pelvic floor exercises and adding them into your daily routine is great, sometimes it’s not enough – or it’s a case of too little too late. In some instances, the bladder and bowel issues associated with weak pelvic floor muscles can become severe and debilitating. At this point, if you have not seen a pelvic floor physical therapist first, then that would be the first step!  That way they can advise you on further options and need to consult with your medical doctor if other options might be necessary down the road, like medical intervention in the form of pessaries or surgery.

But on most occasions, physical therapy will suffice. To find out more and to discuss your symptoms with a pelvic floor therapist, you can book a free 30-minute consultation at LEVEL4 PT & Wellness in Encinitas (or over the telephone if you prefer). 

We love to help people in their 40s, 50s, 60s, and beyond live the life they deserve – without medications, surgery, or endless trips to the doctor’s office.

But, unfortunately, when pelvic floor issues strike – it’s tempting to ignore it. Still, if you don’t quickly act, a minor muscle weakness that is easily fixable with physical therapy could turn into full-blown urinary incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse.Click here to find out how we can help you! 

Dawn Andalon, DPT, MTC, CPI

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