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Your pelvic floor is the collection of muscles and tissue which go from your tail bone at the back to your pubic bone at the front of your body. Both men and women have a pelvic floor and they essentially support all your abdominal organs and prevent them falling out of your body. You can imagine them as a sling of muscles just below your uterus and connected to your bum and vagina.
Their importance usually becomes greater as we become older and more aware of the need we have for our pelvic floors, as they help us to control when we urinate and have bowel movements.
Problems caused by a weak pelvic floor
- Stress incontinence is when a small amount of urine comes out without you being able to control it. This can happen when your bladder needs emptying, running, laughing, jumping or coughing.
- Bowel incontinence is when you have an immediate urge to go to the toilet, are unable to stop a bowel movement before getting to a toilet or more commonly, you are not in full control of passing wind.
- Prolapse of internal organs is more likely, such as the bladder, bowel or uterus not being supported sufficiently. It may feel like a dragging feeling or a lump can be felt through the vaginal wall.
- A decrease in sexual satisfaction due to weaker muscle tone in this area.
Why do pelvic floor muscles become weak?
Your pelvic floor muscles may be weak for one of several reasons, such as:
- Childbirth. Not only vaginal birth affects your pelvic floor. Women who have given birth via caesarean section are affected too, as their pelvic floor has supported a pregnancy for many months.
- Obesity. Carrying extra weight can affect the strength of your pelvic floor as it is under more strain.
- Surgery. Any pelvic surgery can interfere with the integrity of your pelvic floor, but especially bladder or bowel surgery.
- Lifting heavy objects, whether it is through fitness exercises or work related.
- Constipation. Consistently straining when having a bowel movement can damage your pelvic floor.
- Coughing. This can weaken your pelvic floor over time.
How to strengthen your pelvic floor
Strengthening your pelvic floor can help you to reduce stress incontinence after childbirth or later on in your life.
Regular pelvic floor exercises are currently advised as the best way to strengthen your pelvic floor. You can start doing these exercises before you are pregnant, during pregnancy and after your baby has been born.
Here is a guide on how to get started:
- Firstly, locate your pelvic floor so you know where you need to focus when doing your exercises. If you are unsure, try to stop your flow of urine when you go to the toilet or tighten your anus as if you are trying to stop passing wind or a bowel movement. Those muscles are part of your pelvic floor.
- Start off slowly by practicing tightening and relaxing these muscles about 10 times in a row. Once you have mastered this, try holding the tightening of them and releasing more slowly.
- Try to do a set of 10 around 3 times a day to help build up strength in your pelvic floor.
- Build these exercises into part of your daily routine, such as mealtimes or waking up and going to bed.
- An app is available to download, created by the NHS, to help get you started called Easy Squeezy*.
Your pelvic floor is an important area to look after following childbirth to help your recovery and to protect you against long term pelvic problems. The stronger your pelvic floor is, the more control you will have and the less likely you will be to experience problems, such as stress incontinence.