What are pelvic floor disorders?
Pelvic floor disorders occur when one is unable to relax and coordinate the muscles located on your pelvic floor. This can result in symptoms such as constipation, experiencing a frequent need to pee, and having urine or stool leakage. The three main types of pelvic floor disorders are:
- Lack of bowel control.
- Pelvic organ prolapse.
- Obstructive defecation.
Symptoms affect about 10% of women ages 20 to 39, 27% of women ages 40 to 59, 37% of women ages 60 to 79, and nearly 50% of women age 80 or older. Pelvic floor therapy can be critical in managing symptoms of a pelvic floor disorder.
Can I prevent a pelvic floor disorder?
While pelvic floor disorders can naturally occur with age, it is always possible to engage in preventative behaviors. Pelvic floor therapy can prevent onset of a pelvic floor disorder, in addition to preventing more serious forms of pelvic floor disorders.
Kegels, a form of pelvic floor therapy, can help strengthen muscles that control your pelvic functions by contracting and relaxing muscles.
What is pelvic floor therapy?
With 1 in 3 women living with urinary incontinence in the United States, pelvic health and wellness is vitally important. After childbirth or with age, the pelvic floor muscles surrounding the bladder, vagina, and rectum may weaken. This can cause urinary incontinence. Although someone experiencing an involuntary loss of bladder control may feel embarrassed to seek treatment, a number of solutions are available. Among them, pelvic floor therapy can be an effective way to strengthen the pelvic muscles and improve bladder control through safe stretches, and exercises. There are a number of simple exercises beginners can do to start the process of pelvic floor therapy at home.
What are the benefits of pelvic floor muscles exercises?
Pelvic floor exercises, often a part of most pelvic floor therapy routines, strengthen the muscles around your bladder, rectum, and vagina or penis. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles can help manage symptoms of urinary incontinence, treat pelvic organ prolapse, and improve the sensation of sex. Anyone and everyone can benefit from doing pelvic floor exercises.
After a few months of engaging in these exercises, one should start to notice results. However, one should continue to engage in pelvic floor regimens, even after noticing they're starting to work, to ensure long lasting results.
What are some examples of pelvic floor therapy exercises?
These exercises are designed to strengthen the pelvic floor. To strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, sit comfortably and squeeze the muscles 10 to 15 times.
Do not hold your breath or tighten your stomach, bottom or thigh muscles at the same time.
When you get used to doing these types of exercises to strengthen pelvic floor, you can try holding each squeeze for a few seconds. If you are looking for more direction on how to properly perform these exercises on your body, you can talk to a physical therapist, specifically one that specializes in pelvic floor therapy, to work together to perfect your technique.
Each week, as you continue to practice, you can add more squeezes. However, one should be careful not to overdo it, and always have a rest between sets.
Step-by-step pelvic floor therapy exercises
Below are three beginner pelvic floor exercises that you can do in the convenience of your own home, equipment free. These are not a substitute for pelvic floor therapy from a specialist, but will help strengthen your muscles at home.
1. Kegels: Kegels are exercises where you squeeze your pelvic floor (the muscles surrounding the bladder and rectum). To perform a kegel, you contract these muscles in isolation (without also contracting your abdominal muscles or buttocks), holding for about 5 seconds. It is recommended to do 10 squeezes in a row, 3 times a day. Ben wa balls, which are inserted into the vaginal canal, can also strengthen the pelvic floor muscles in conjunction with kegel exercises, but you should consult a pelvic floor therapy specialist before using them on your own.
2. Bird dog: bird dog is a simple exercise that you may be familiar with if you practice yoga. Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Then, raise one arm and the opposite leg straight up off the ground. Contract your pelvic muscles and slowly return to the floor. Alternate sides, working up to 3 sets of 15 repetitions each. Pelvic floor therapy will help you build the endurance to complete more sets over time.
3. Bridge: Start by lying on your back with your feet flat on the floor. Then, while contracting your pelvic floor muscles, push your pelvis and hips up off the floor so that your upper body is flat and off the ground. Hold for a few seconds and slowly come back down to the floor. Work up to sets of 15 to 20 bridges.
Tips and Tricks for exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles:
When beginning pelvic floor exercises, try tightening your muscles really gently to feel just the pelvic floor muscles lifting and squeezing in. If you cannot feel your muscles contracting, change your position and try again.
After a contraction it is important to relax. This will allow your muscles to recover from the previous contraction and prepare for the next contraction.
It is common to try too hard and have too many outside muscles tighten. Engaging in incorrect pelvic floor muscles exercises can be detrimental, so please feel free to reference this directory to find a specialist that can help you if you cannot feel your muscles hold or relax.
Should I seek professional help from a pelvic floor therapy specialist?
While these are great exercises you can do at home, sometimes it is wise to get a consultation from a professional practicing pelvic floor therapy. Whether it’s helping you adopt the proper technique for kegels or prescribing an alternative course of treatment, a professional opinion can help you get the care that you need to manage your symptoms. This directory of specialists can help you find a practitioner offering pelvic floor therapy near you. Additionally, especially if you are experiencing urinary incontinence, this resource library can help you identify incontinence products to manage your bladder leaks and continue an active lifestyle.
One should seek professional help from either a urologist or pelvic floor therapy specialist/ PT when you have bladder or bowel control problems with symptoms such as:
- Needing to urgently or frequently go to the bathroom
- Accidental leakage of urine, bowel motions or wind
- Difficulty emptying your bladder or bowel
- Pain in the bladder, bowel or in your back near the pelvic floor area when exercising the pelvic floor or during intercourse
Pelvic floor muscles exercises may not be the most appropriate treatment so speak to a health professional if you have persistent problems with your bladder or bowel.
What else can I do other than pelvic floor therapy to prevent a pelvic floor disorder?
Other preventative measures include drinking fluids, preferably water, so that you have a regular bathroom schedule. This will help avoid constipation, which often leads to strain on the pelvic muscles.
Additionally, a fiber rich diet can also help avoid constipation. Foods that are high in fiber include beans, fruits, vegetables and whole-grain products.
Furthermore, smoking is a big preventable risk factor for a pelvic floor disorder. Smoking causes coughing and raises the chance of developing stress incontinence.
I’m just getting older, should I even bother with pelvic floor therapy?
Absolutely! Anyone can engage in pelvic floor therapy at any age. One of the most detrimental misconceptions about aging is that we cannot improve upon ourselves or our health as we get older. In reality, this could not be more untrue; health is malleable at any age, meaning that no matter what age we are--we can always take steps toward improving our health. In light of this, preventative pelvic floor therapy is extremely important! It would only do one a disservice to stop engaging in preventative care simply because of outdated notions that we malfunction with age.
So, can pelvic floor therapy stop me from aging?
Getting older is one of the few things that every person has in common. Ageism is a pervasive cultural phenomenon that tells people that they are “less than” simply because they are older. The glorification of “youthfulness” is as fabricated as the photoshopped models who are prominently displayed in tabloids. Although we need to shift this framework as a society, we can individually reject notions of ageism by adopting healthy behaviors late into adulthood to care for ourselves, such as engaging in pelvic floor therapy. Getting older should be a beautiful process, and we can make sure that we feel fabulous into older age by practicing self-care. Outdated ageist notions must change, and that can start with normalizing discussions around aging, pelvic floor therapy, and incontinence!
Lastly, Can pelvic floor therapy help with sex?
Absolutely. Strong pelvic floor muscles can also mean increased sensitivity during sex and stronger orgasms. Pelvic floor therapy exercises and training the pelvic floor muscles can also help reduce the symptoms of erectile dysfunction. Exercises to strengthen pelvic floor have a great deal of benefits that range from helping to manage incontinence to strengthening muscles and better sex. However, one should still feel comfortable using incontinence products in addition to pelvic floor therapy, if needed.
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