What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor muscles are a group of muscles that can be found in the base (floor) of your pelvis. If you think of the pelvis as being the home to many organs like the bladder, uterus (or prostate if we think about men) and rectum, the pelvic floor muscles represent the foundation. These muscles constitute the support structure that keeps everything in place within your body. Your pelvic floor muscles add support to several of your organs by basically wrapping around your pelvic bone. This structure is vital for adding stability by forming something that looks like a sling around the rectum.
The pelvic organs include:
- The bladder
- The uterus and vagina (in women).
- The prostate (in men).
- The rectum
Why is it important?
The pelvic floor is important for a number of reasons. It stabilises the organs in the pelvis, without which, common problems such as incontinence, constipation and painful sex can arise. A strong pelvic floor can also increase the pleasure felt during sex.
What can cause weakening of the pelvic floor?
Aside from the fact that they hold everything in place, major stresses such as pregnancy and menopause can have a weakening effect on the pelvic floor. During pregnancy, the increasing weight of the baby puts strain on the pelvic floor. Second, during pregnancy the body releases relaxin (a hormone that relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis and softens and widens the cervix ready for childbirth) Then, natural birth itself stretches the pelvic floor. This is why your midwife or doctor stresses the importance of strengthening exercises such as Kegels after childbirth, because without them, you might experience problems in later life (or even after childbirth).
Being overweight can also place stress on the pelvic floor, as can a poor diet resulting in constipation as the increased strain of going stretches the pelvic floor. Later in life, the onset of menopause can cause the pelvic floor muscles (and other muscles in the body) to weaken through hormonal changes. This can result in pelvic floor problems.
What can you do to improve your pelvic floor health?
Pelvic floor problems can lead to incontinence (the most common symptom of pelvic floor dysfunction) back pain, poor posture, and problems with bowel movements, so it pays to keep these muscles in good shape. You can do this in a number of ways, including pelvic floor training. Kegel exercises (exercises to tense and squeeze the pelvic floor) are the most common form of pelvic floor training. There are also a number of devices available to train your pelvic floor through internal stimulation of the muscle structure that greatly enhance the strengthening of this group of muscles with minimal or no effort at all. One of this devices, which has become an important reference in the pelvic floor training field is Elvie trainer. Otherwise, if you don’t want to use a device, you could try vaginal cones, which come in different weights to use to train the pelvic floor muscles. Of course, a healthy and active lifestyle does help, like it does with many aspects of menopausal transition.
Menopause can be a really difficult time even without pelvic floor problems, and the accompanying symptoms such as bladder leakage. But you are not alone – up to 40% of middle–aged women suffer this issue, rising to 50% of older women. Talking about it with friends and family will help, and it is possible to restore normal function through exercises, devices and sometimes medication. If you feel you need help with pelvic floor weakness, do consult your GP or specialist.
On the bright side, pelvic weakness is easily resolved and training your pelvic floor can have some really positive effects such as more satisfying sex. Confidence in your pelvic floor might also encourage you to start exercising more – resulting in a healthier lifestyle. So, it’s really not as bad as it may first seem.