There has been seemingly increased publicity in the past year regarding issues involving a group of muscles called the “pelvic floor”. These muscles have so many important functions. They are responsible for sphincter control, sexual appreciation, stability of the pelvis, and support of the pelvic organs. As a pelvic floor physical therapist, it makes me so happy to see that issues surrounding these muscles are gaining some awareness in mainstream media.
Many women (and men!) with pelvic floor issues struggle for years and years before they receive an appropriate diagnosis and treatment for a pelvic floor problem. All of that aside, I fear that there are so many gross generalizations being made by those lacking an adequate knowledge base of how these muscles work that there is a load of misinformation circulating on the internet. Here’s the nitty gritty on the pelvic floor, and what you should know:
- Both women and men have pelvic floor muscles. In both men and women, these muscles are responsible for maintaining urinary and fecal continence, for sexual appreciation, and for stabilization and support of the pelvic girdle and pelvic organs.
- These muscles do not act in isolation. These muscles work as part of an entire movement system. Kegels and pelvic floor exercises alone will never fix your pelvic floor problem.
- Many people assume that you can only have pelvic floor issues if you’ve had a vaginal birth. While this can cause a pelvic floor issue, these muscles can also be deeply impacted by the following: Cesarean sections and other abdominal surgeries, chronic constipation, poor toileting habits such as straining and prolonged holding, prolonged sitting, hip and lower back injuries, and cancer treatments (Just to name a few!).
- It is never normal to experience the following: Urinary leakage, leaking of feces, uncontrollable urgency to urinate or have a bowel movement, sensation of pressure in the pelvis as if something is falling out of you, pain with sex, or tailbone pain with sitting. While there are many other symptoms associated with pelvic floor issues, these are some of the most common. Though these symptoms are common, they are never normal. If you experience any of these things, I encourage you to seek help!
- Sometimes symptoms associated with pelvic floor problems are present because the muscles are weak. Sometimes symptoms are present because the muscles lack proper coordination. Often, the muscles are overly tight or are in spasm, and this prohibits them from working appropriately. The only way to know what’s driving your symptoms is to see a provider who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of the pelvic floor muscles. A detailed assessment of your pelvic floor will help to guide specialized treatment suited to meet your needs.
- A skilled pelvic health professional should perform a head-to-toe evaluation of you. As I said previously, the pelvic floor is part of a much bigger movement system. 99% of the time, treating the pelvic floor alone will only treat your symptoms temporarily. In order to get to the root of your problem, the “why” behind your pain, your provider should be examining the following in addition to your pelvic floor: Posture, gait, muscle strength, muscle endurance, coordination, joint mobility, joint flexibility, breathing patterns, movements patterns, and connective tissue mobility at multiple regions within your body.
- There is help out there if you are experiencing symptoms related to a pelvic floor problem! By visiting pelvicrehab.com, you can search for specialized providers in your geographic area that can help you with whatever symptoms you may be experiencing.