Women often suffer from a weak pelvic floor. Common causes of a weakened pelvic floor include pregnancy, childbirth, prostate cancer treatment in males, obesity and the associated straining of chronic constipation.
How can you tell if you have a weak pelvic floor?
The symptoms of a weakened pelvic floor include:
- leaking small amounts of urine when coughing, sneezing, laughing or running
- failing to reach the toilet in time
- uncontrollably breaking wind from either the anus or vagina when bending over or lifting
- reduced sensation in the vagina
- tampons that dislodge or fall out
- a distinct bulge at the vaginal opening
- a sensation of heaviness in the vagina.
Why do I need to correct a weak pelvic floor?
Lets start with a little biology lesson.
The pelvic floor muscles are located between the tailbone (coccyx) and the pubic bone within the pelvis, and support the bowel and bladder along with the uterus and vagina (in females). Muscular bands (sphincters) encircle the urethra, vagina and anus as they pass through the pelvic floor. When the pelvic floor muscles are contracted, the internal organs are lifted and then function to tighten the openings of the vagina, anus and urethra. Relaxing the pelvic floor allows passage of urine and feces.
So you can see that if these muscles are weakened, the internal organs are no longer fully supported and you may not be able to control your openings. This is not only inconvenient, but can also be quite embarrassing.
What are some of the causes of a weak pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor can be weakened in many ways, such as:
- supporting the weight of the uterus during pregnancy
- vaginal childbirth, which may overstretch the muscles
- the pressure of obesity
- chronic constipation and associated straining
- constant coughing
- some forms of surgery that require cutting the muscles (including prostate cancer treatment in males)
- lower levels of estrogen after menopause
There is a way to correct this problem before considering surgery.
You can correct a weak pelvic floor by performing pelvic floor exercises
Pelvic floor exercises are designed to improve muscle tone and prevent the need for corrective surgery.
Some tips on how to know if you are working the right muscles:
- You can identify the muscles located around the bladder opening by starting and stopping your urine stream. If you are able to stop mid stream, you’re using your pelvic floor muscles.
- Another way to identify pelvic muscles and complete your pelvic floor exercises is to tighten the muscles around your back passage (as when holding back wind or at the end of a bowel movement).
- If you are not sure that you are exercising the right muscles, put a couple fingers into your vagina. You should feel a gentle squeeze when doing the exercise. A proper pelvic floor squeeze also works to lift the engaged muscles upwards.
- Use a hand mirror to see if you can notice any upward movement when you contract your pelvic floor muscles-Kegals
This can be done lying down, sitting or standing. Kegals can be done anytime of day, anywhere and no one can tell you are doing them!
The first few times you try these exercises, you may find it easier to do them lying down.
Tighten the ring of muscle around your front and back passages drawing the pelvic floor muscles up inside. Squeeze slowly and hold as strongly as you can for 5 to 10 seconds while breathing normally. Release slowly. Repeat up to 10 times. Relax for 5 to 10 seconds between each one.
Tighten the ring of muscle around your front and back passages drawing the pelvic floor muscles up inside. Perform quick, short, strong squeezes for 10 sec. Repeat up to 10 times. Relax for 5 to 10 seconds between each one.
Aim to do these two exercises up to 3 times a day. As you get stronger, try and hold for a longer period of time. (You are doing well if you can hold for 10 sec.) You should also mix it up and do this exercise laying down, sitting, or standing. Each position will challenge the muscle differently.
These exercises work best when each squeeze of the pelvic floor muscles is as tight as possible
Staying on your back, lift your legs up to tabletop. Feel the connection from the lower abs to the pelvic floor as you alternate bringing your toes down to the mat. Think about hinging from your hip, using the lower abs and pelvic floor to bring your leg back up.
- Engage your abs and pelvic floor, then bring the hipbones up towards the ceiling. Then slowly lower your back to the mat, starting with your upper back, middle back, then lower back. Once you reach the mat, you can release your pelvic floor, and then re-engage as you do this move again.
Some other helpful information
It is important to perform these exercises correctly. If you are not sure that you are doing the correct exercises, ask a doctor, physiotherapist, or continence adviser for advice.
You should start to see benefits after a few weeks. However, it often takes two to five months for most improvement to occur.
In severe cases, pelvic floor exercises aren’t enough to solve the problem and further medical treatment may be needed. Be guided by your healthcare professional.
For more information on a weak pelvic floor, check out this website
Other ways to reduce symptoms of pelvic floor weakness
You can further improve the strength of your pelvic floor and reduce symptoms of pelvic floor weakness in many ways
- lose excess body fat
- prevent constipation by including more fruit, vegetables, fiber and water in your daily diet
- seek medical attention for a chronic cough.
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