When I hear the term “pelvic floor muscles” I immediately picture 80’s style Jazzercizers in spandex tights doing hip thrusts to the beat. In actuality, this visual reference has very little to do with understanding what pelvic floor muscles are and why they are so important. So get that frightening visual out of your mind and instead check out this list that will tell you all you need to know about your pelvic floor muscles and why they matter.
10 What are they?
Pelvic floor muscles are the group of muscles that span the pelvic area and support the pelvic organs. In men, these organs are the bladder and bowel; in women, they include the bladder, bowel, and uterus. They are responsible for controlling both the bladder and the bowel in men and women.
These muscles can be described as a “trampoline” which stretches from the front pelvic bone to the back tailbone; and like a trampoline, these muscles have the ability to stretch so it’s important to work them out and keep them as strong and tight as possible.
9 How can I find them?
Out of sight out of mind? Not quite when it comes to pelvic muscles. Despite the fact that they aren’t visible, pelvic muscles can still be felt and controlled. In order to learn how to control and strengthen them, it’s important to be able to locate them first. The first step is to sit or lie down in a relaxed manner, especially relaxing the muscles in the lower half of your body.
Next, squeeze the group of muscles at the base of your back as if you’re trying to stop yourself from passing gas. Relax. Practice squeezing and relaxing these muscles, all the while trying not to squeeze your bum. Another method to try to locate these muscles is to attempt to stop your stream of urine when using the restroom.
This should be done sparingly however (once a week) as your bladder may not empty correctly if you practice this too often.
8 How are they weakened?
After all of this squeezing you may be wondering why this is important in the first place. Not only do these muscles control continence, or the ability to hold in bodily functions, but they can be weakened over time and lead to issues in controlling bladder and bowel movements.
For women, pregnancy and childbirth are major contributors to the loosening of these muscles. Straining on the toilet, chronic coughing, heavy lifting, age, and obesity, are other factors that play a role in weakening pelvic floor muscles.
7 What do they have to do with pregnancy?
One of the organs that is supported by your pelvic floor muscles is your uterus or womb where your baby develops. In conjunction with your abs, the pelvic floor muscles assist in pushing during labor. Ideally, during labor you should push through your abdominal muscles and learn to relax the floor of your pelvis. By doing this, you can improve the likelihood of shortening the second stage of labor and having a smoother delivery.
Other benefits include supporting the extra weight of pregnancy and assisting in healing the perineum, or the area between your vagina and anus. Because your pelvic floor muscles stretch and become weakened during pregnancy, it is import to know the various effects that weakened pelvic floor muscles can have on your health and well-being.
6 Stress incontinence
Stress incontinence is when urine is leaked during inopportune times such as coughing, sneezing, working out, or other activities that require physical exertion. Most adult bladders can hold up to two cups of urine, but when pelvic floor muscles are weakened this number decreases and accidents increase.
Women are especially susceptible because pregnancy and labor (specifically vaginal delivery) increase your risks of developing stress incontinence. Not only does labor put physical pressure on your muscles, but it can also cause nerve or tissue damage in the pelvic area. This is why strengthening these muscles is so important to your well-being both before and after baby.
5 Urge incontinence
Urge incontinence is similar to stress incontinence in that urine is released unexpectedly; however it differs in that there’s a strong, sudden urge to urinate that you cannot control. Symptoms include being unable to control when you pass urine, having to urinate very often, and feeling the urge to urinate suddenly and urgently.
While most people feel slight urges to urinate when there’s about one cup of urine in their bladder, those who suffer from urge incontinence feel it sooner and all of a sudden. Once again, women are more susceptible due to pregnancy and weakened muscles due to labor pressure and tissue damage.
4 Vaginal prolapse
Vaginal prolapse is a condition where the pelvic organs begin to fall out of place due to a weakened pelvic floor. These organs or structures include the uterus, rectum, bladder, urethra, small bowel, or the vagina. Without treatment or surgery, these organs can shift so much that they fall further into the vagina, or even into the vaginal opening.
While 30-40% of women will be affected to some degree, many women don’t present any symptoms and others are too embarrassed to discuss it with their health care professionals. More common symptoms include a “dragging” feeling as if “something is coming out,” painful intercourse, or pressure in the pelvic region.
3 Less satisfying sex life
As if the previous effects of weak pelvic floor muscles wasn’t bad enough, another negative effect is a less satisfying sex life for both him and her. In males, pelvic floor muscles play an important role in both erectile function and the process of ejaculation. In addition, when women are able to locate and contract their pelvic floor, it contributes to arousal and sensation in both women and men.
It makes sense because each time a female orgasms, her pelvic floor muscles contract and produce a physical sensation. While anyone couple’s sex life can benefit from strengthening the pelvic floor, it is usually recommended for women with vaginal laxity or the feeling of being “loose” after childbirth.
2 Prevent future problems
So what if you snapped back like a rubber band after pregnancy and these issues don’t pertain to you? The important point to remember is that even if these issues don’t affect you now, they may in the future. For example, the more vaginal births you have the weaker your pelvic floor muscles become.
Other factors that can change over time include weight gain, constipation, inactivity, and age or menopause. The first step in preventing future issues is knowing who the problem is likely to affect. By working on the factors within your control, you can avoid any further weakening or damage to your pelvic area.
1 What can I do to strengthen them?
Luckily, for anyone suffering with or concerned with weakened pelvic floor muscles, there are easy exercises which can be done anywhere and at any time. Known as Kegel exercises, this practice includes contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles. Start by squeezing your pelvic floor muscles and holding the contraction for five seconds.
Relax for five seconds and repeat 4-5 times. Be sure to breathe freely and avoid squeezing abdominal or buttocks muscles. Try working yourself up to holding and releasing the contractions for ten seconds at a time. Aim for completing at least 3 sets of 10 repetitions daily.