For those who experience pelvic floor problems, including bladder or bowel control issues, it is recommended to consult with a continence professional to determine the cause of your symptoms.
What Is The Pelvic Floor?
The pelvic floor is composed of a thin sheet of muscles and associated connective tissue which stretch from the area beneath the pelvis between the pubic bone at the front to the sacrum or tail bone at the back (see illustration below).
What’s The Function of Pelvic Floor Muscles?
Pelvic floor muscles support the bladder and bowel in men, and the bladder, bowel and uterus in women.
The pelvic floor muscles work with your stomach, back muscles and diaphragm to control the pressure inside your abdomen to deal with the downward pressure when you lift or strain, such as during exercise.
• The pelvic floor muscles contract when you cough, sneeze or strain, helping to prevent the involuntary leakage of urine.
• They help support the organs in your abdomen especially when you are standing.
• They help protect the pelvic organs from external damage.
• They help hold the pelvic organs, like the bladder in the correct position.
• They help control the passing of urine, gas and bowel motions.
• They play a role in sexual function during intercourse. For the pelvic floor muscles to carry out their function well, they need to be fit and adequately toned just like any other muscle in the body.
Signs Of A Weak Pelvic Floor
A weakness of the pelvic floor muscles may contribute to various problems including:
- Stress urinary incontinence. The accidental leaking of urine due to strain or physical exertion, including when you exercise, laugh, cough or sneeze.
- Urge urinary incontinence. The accidental leaking of urine associated with a sudden or constant need to pass urine.
- Pelvic Organ Prolapse.The bulging of the bladder or bowel, or womb into the vagina or, in more severe cases, out of the vaginal entrance
- In men, this may be felt as a bulge in the rectum or a feeling of needing to use their bowels but not actually needing to go or difficulty in emptying the bladder or bowel.
- In women, this may be felt as a bulge in the vagina or a feeling of pain in your pelvic area with heaviness, discomfort, pulling, dragging or dropping sensation.
- Diminished sexual sensation or feeling of vaginal looseness and painful sexual intercourse.
- Loss of control of the Accidentally losing control of your bladder or bowel.
What Causes Weakness In The Pelvic Floor Muscles?
Problems can arise in your pelvic floor health when the muscles are stretched, weakened or too tight.
Some people have weak pelvic floor muscles from an early age, whilst certain life events such as pregnancy, childbirth or menopause, can lead to issues with in pelvic health.
Pelvic floor muscle fitness is affected by a number of things, including:
1. Underuse. As with all muscles, the pelvic floor muscles need exercise to work well. It is, therefore, important to regularly exercise the pelvic floor muscles all through life, for both men and women and not just after having children.
2. Overuse. Heavy lifting and straining during exercise. Some people have pelvic floor muscles that are too tight and cannot relax. This can be made worse by doing squeezing exercises and overworking the muscles without learning how to relax.
3. Pregnancy and childbirth can cause damage to the muscles.
4. Age-related decrease in muscle tone.
5. Long term straining to empty the bowels when constipated or due to a chronic cough or sneezing, including when linked to asthma, smoking or hay fever can lead to damage to the pelvic floor muscles.
6. Being overweight. Obesity or having a body mass index over 25
How Exercise And Stimulation Can Strengthen The Pelvic Floor
As with any other muscle group pelvic floor muscles can be consciously controlled and, therefore, trained to get stronger. Intensive and regular pelvic floor exercises help by both strengthening and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, so they become firm and supportive, but not overactive. This is true for both men and women. Many will have a major improvement in or recovery from symptoms of stress urinary incontinence by learning effective pelvic floor exercises, thus avoiding or delaying the need for surgery.
If you experience pelvic floor problems, including bladder or bowel control issues, it is recommended to consult with a continence professional to determine the cause of your symptoms and provide the best course of treatment and management options to suit your needs. This may include an individual pelvic floor muscle training program to help improve your symptoms and regain control.
The pelvic health consultant may suggest some additional treatments to encourage pelvic muscle strengthening.
This aims to help women identify and contract and relax selectively the pelvic floor muscles using signals from their own bodies. Feeling the muscles with your fingers is one
example of this. Other methods involve using small sticky electrodes placed on the abdomen and buttock area or an intra-vaginal or intra-rectal probe connected to a computer. The strength and length of the contraction you perform can then be seen on the computer screen.
Electrical stimulation therapy
Sometimes the pelvic floor muscles are unable to contract due to nerve damage such as due to damage during childbirth or as a result of surgery. Electrical stimulation will provide an artificial contraction of the pelvic floor muscles, so helping to strengthen them.
These treatment options are available at our specialist Pelvic Health Clinic at each of the Cosmetech Clinics in Holywood and London, where are expert consultants will provide individual support and advice.
For more information on the treatments available to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, follow the links below: