If you’re like most people, you probably don’t give much thought to your pelvic floor or may not even know what it is. Also, you may have difficulty sharing problems related to urination, constipation, and painful sex. A pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) is often the cause of these issues. Your daily life can be significantly impacted when you struggle with PFD. It can be hard to work, play sports, exercise or even play with your kids or laugh with friends. Here’s what you need to know about the pelvic floor and PFD, why it’s important to keep your pelvic floor healthy, and the benefits of physical therapy for pelvic floor dysfunction.
What Is the Pelvic Floor and Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?
Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with the terms “pelvic floor” and “pelvic floor dysfunction.” Simply put, your pelvic floor is the group of muscles located in your pelvic region. These muscles serve as a sling or hammock that support the bladder, rectum, uterus (for females) and prostate (for males). These muscles don’t work correctly for people with pelvic floor dysfunction. These muscles are also involved in bowel and bladder continence, sexual function, and posture and stability.
Common Symptoms Linked with Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
There are several symptoms listed below:
- Frequent or painful urination
- Straining with bowel movements or constipation and incomplete bowel movements.
- Bowel or bladder leakage
- Unexplained lower back pain, pain in the pelvis or rectum, or abdominal pain
- Painful intercourse, pain during an exam, or pain during tampon use
- Tailbone pain
- Endometriosis often causes a PFD, thus developing pain linked to their endometriosis
Causes of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
PFD can be the result of weak pelvic muscles, tight or contracted muscles, or tears in the connective tissue. PFD has been linked with pelvic region injuries, pelvic surgeries, nerve damage, increased intra-abdominal pressure due to weight gain, pregnancy, and childbirth, and straining with urination and defecation. PFD may also be exacerbated by imbalances in fluid intake or diet, as well as emotional or stress triggers. Dysfunctions can come about in the form of pain or problems in the lower back or abdomen as well.
The Problem of a Pelvic Floor Being Too Tight
While some people struggle with a pelvic floor because of muscles that are weak, others have the problems with pelvic floor muscles being too tight, which is as much of an issue as a weak pelvic floor. The primary sign of pelvic muscles that are too tight is pelvic pain.
However, this type of pain isn’t like other common causes of pelvic pain such as infection, endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease. The primary symptom is having tight muscles and/or muscle spasms, similar to muscular pain occurring in an arm or leg, which may in turn cause problems with the bowel, bladder and/or reproductive organs.
How Your Daily Habits Can Affect PFD
One way to prevent PFD is by eating healthy foods and maintaining a normal weight. When you’re overweight or chronically constipated, additional stress is placed on your bladder and bowels. Also, constipation and muscle tightness can be improved by being adequately hydrated.
Be sure to include at least five servings of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet as well as other sources of fiber. Avoiding alcohol, caffeine, carbonation, and real or artificial sugars are also helpful as these substances can cause bladder irritation. When you consume too much of them, your bladder doesn’t store enough urine, which affects how often you urinate and how strong your urge to urinate feels.
Exercises for Easing Pelvic Floor Tension
There are also several exercises you can do to relieve tension from a tight pelvic floor, such as abdominal, lumbar, and hip stretches, and diaphragmatic breaths (belly breathing). Again, always check with a medical professional before attempting any type of exercises.
Although Kegel exercises are good for a weak pelvic floor, they can be harmful to a pelvic floor that’s too tight. You can actually do more harm than good if you do the wrong exercises, so make sure you know what’s wrong. If you’re unsure what’s wrong with your pelvic floor, or if you don’t know whether your pelvic muscles are weak or too tight, it’s critical you see a pelvic floor physical therapist for a thorough examination.
How Physical Therapy Can Help Treat Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
If you’ve been diagnosed with (or think you have) a weak or tight pelvic floor, it’s a good idea to see a physical therapist as these professionals are highly trained in physiology and anatomy of the lumbopelvic region. They know how to assess the core support muscles for strength, endurance, and motor control. Additionally, they can create a program to address pain, help improve bowel or bladder problems and restore normal function of the pelvic floor muscles.
Common Myths Associated with PFD
One of the most common misconceptions linked with PFD is that the only people who need to get pelvic physical therapy are women who’ve recently given birth and postmenopausal or perimenopausal women. However, pelvic physical therapy is beneficial to people of all ages (including males) who’ve suffered from a wide range of symptoms, such as urinary incontinence and other urinary difficulties, constipation, bowel incontinence, sexual dysfunction, lower back issues, rectal or vaginal pain, abdominal discomfort, and other conditions.
Another common myth is there’s no treatment that can work for PFD because it’s a genetic condition. Although there are genetic factors that can cause someone to tend to develop PFD, there’s always something that can be done to treat the problem.
Considerations and Warnings
- Do not try to use the restroom “just in case” because this trains the bladder to hold less urine than it should.
- Only use the toilet when needed and be sure to completely empty your bladder or bowels.
- Try not to strain when urinating or having bowel movements.
- Some of the causes of a tight pelvic floor are stress, anxiety, poor posture and even having rock hard abs.
- It’s critical that you have good posture. For example, do not slump forward as this puts more downward pressure on your pelvic floor. A highly trained and experienced physical therapist can show you how to sit and stand properly so that your pelvic floor is protected.
Questions? For more information, please contact us at our Covington, Slidell, and Westbank locations so we can help you enjoy your daily life again!