Weak pelvic floor muscles can be a cause for many unpleasant side effects such as incontinence and severe pain in the pelvic area. However, with the correct methods, pelvic floor muscles can be treated.
What are pelvic floor muscles?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that forms a supportive sling in the lower pelvis. This sling, made up of 14 different muscles arranged in three layers, attaches to the pelvic bones. In a woman’s body, the pelvic floor muscles surround the urethra, vaginal opening and anus. Pelvic floor muscles are also called the levator ani muscles, due to their function of holding the pelvic organs in their proper place. When the levator muscles weaken, the pelvic organs move out of their normal place and do not function as effectively as they should.
How can a weak pelvic floor cause incontinence?
Your bladder is kept in place by a number of muscles in your pelvic floor. As long as these muscles are functioning well, you are in total control of when you urinate. When these muscles lose their resilience, frequent leaks can start to happen. When individuals develop incontinence, this can have a huge impact upon every aspect of their life. Physiotherapist Sue Croft asserts, “our confidence, our self-esteem, our dignity, can all be shattered if there is an upset to something as basic as our continence control.” To prevent incontinence from developing, it is important to be proactive and ensure your pelvic floor is strong and healthy.
How can you ensure your pelvic floor is healthy?
Research and studies have revealed that women are at an increased risk of pelvic floor problems if they have experienced the following:
> Obesity. Obesity is a well-documented risk factor for lower urinary tract symptoms and is a predictor of exacerbation of urinary incontinence. Weight loss is also associated with the improvement or resolution of SUI and OAB. In the case of pelvic organ prolapse (POP), weight loss is associated with improvement in quality of life.
> Frequent heavy lifting. High impact exercise and heavy lifting can cause heaviness and pressure on the pelvic floor, weakening the muscles in the pelvic floor.
> Chronic back pain. Surprisingly, pelvic floor problems are more likely to occur in people with a history of back pain and frequent aches.
> Trauma to the pelvic region. Accidents such as fractures, falls and abuse can dramatically weaken the pelvic floor.
> Frequent straining caused by chronic coughing or constipation.
The following tips can help to reduce the symptoms of a weak pelvic floor:
> Avoid constipation. Repeated straining can have a very damaging effect on the pelvic floor muscles.
> Stay active. Regular exercise and recreational sporting activities play a key role in keeping women fit and healthy well into old age
> Drink plenty of water
> Learn to tighten your pelvic floor muscles before putting pressure on the bladder through activities such as coughing or lifting heavy objects.
> Exercise your pelvic floor muscles. You can try many different exercises frequently to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and mitigate the unpleasant side effects.
Here are some exercises you can try at home frequently:
Kegels is the practice of contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles. You may benefit from Kegels if you experience leakage of urine during simple activities such as laughing, jumping, or coughing, or have a strong urge to urinate just before losing a large amount of urine.
The steps to successfully practice kegels are as follows:
- Identify the right muscles. The easiest way to do this is to stop urination midstream. These are your pelvic floor muscles.
- To perform Kegels, contract these muscles and hold for 5 seconds. Release for 5 seconds.
- Repeat this 10 times, 3 times a day.
The bridge is a great exercise for the glutes. When this correctly, it can also activate the pelvic floor muscles in the process.
Simply follow these 5 stages to do the exercise effectively:
- Lie on the floor. Your spine should be against the ground, with knees bent at a 90-degree angle, feet flat, and arms straight at your sides with palms facing down.
- Inhale and push through your heels, raising your hips off the ground by squeezing your glutes, hamstrings, and pelvic floor. Your body, resting on your upper back and shoulders, should form a straight line down from the knees.
- Pause 1-2 seconds at the top and return to the starting position.
- Complete 10-15 reps and 2-3 sets, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets.
Squats engage the largest muscles in the body and have one of the largest payoffs in terms of strength improvement. When performing this fundamental move, ensure your form is solid before you add any resistance.
You can do this exercise in 5 simple stages:
- Stand in an upright position, feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and toes slightly pointed out. If using a barbell, it should be rested behind your neck on your trapezius muscles.
- Bend your knees and push your hips and butt back as if you’re going to sit in a chair. Keep your chin tucked and neck neutral.
- Drop down until your thighs are parallel to the ground, keeping your weight in your heels and knees bowed slightly outward.
- Straighten your legs and return to an upright position.
- Complete 15 reps.
- Split Tabletop
Tabletop is a leg move that acts as the foundation of many moves in a Pilates workout. By adding the split, you’re activating your hips and pelvic floor muscles as well.
- Start with your back on the floor and knees bent so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor and your shins are parallel to the floor.
- Your abs should be braced and your inner thighs should be activated, legs touching.
- In a controlled movement, begin to slowly split your legs so each knee falls outward, reaching a comfortable position.
- Slowly raise back to the start.
- Complete 10 to 15 reps and 3 sets.
if you have any concerns with the health of your pelvic floor, you can schedule a consultation with a pelvic floor physiotherapist for a full review and identification of any treatable problems.