Pelvic Floor Health
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is made up of ligaments, connective tissue, and muscles that support the bladder, bowel, and for women, the uterus. Having a strong pelvic floor helps to maintain health and keep your body functioning properly.
If the pelvic floor is too loose, it can lead to symptoms such as organ prolapse, bladder leakage, bulging in the vaginal area, and constipation. A loose, and weak pelvic floor can also cause leakage when you cough, laugh, or sneeze. If the pelvic floor is too tight, or is too often in a contracted state, the pelvic floor may cause low back and hip pain, painful sex, trouble with bowel movements, and even trouble walking.
The pelvic floor is a muscle like any other in the body - we can do exercises to strengthen it, it gets knots that need to be massaged out, and there can be real consequences if it is too weak.
So, are there ways we can strengthen these muscles to prevent these issues?
Just like regular physical therapy, pelvic floor therapy can help reduce symptoms and allow you to live a normal life. Here are some examples of what strengthening the pelvic floor may look like:
- Deep breathing. Breathing into the pelvic floor and timing your breaths can also help to strengthen the pelvic floor. The muscles in the pelvic floor are connected to the inner muscles of the abdomen and can be strengthened when the core is engaged.
- Happy Baby. Lay on your back and grab your feet, and let your pelvis release, rolling back and forth. This is a great stretch for the pelvic floor muscles, giving them a break from gravity and holding your organs in place.
- Kegels. Yes, those ones! Kegels are a popular exercise for strengthening the pelvic floor muscles by contracting and relaxing, like doing reps at the gym. Kegels can be practiced in both the front and the back of the pelvis, working to strengthen around the vagina as well as the anus. This exercise can help relieve painful sex and incontinence.
- One of the easiest [and best] things to do to strengthen the pelvic floor is walking. In fact, by walking just 20-30 minutes a few times a week can help increase the strength in the pelvic floor! Here are some tips if you are working towards better pelvic health:
- Treadmill - if you’re walking on a treadmill, you’ll want the incline slightly upwards (Think 1-3% incline). A treadmill with no incline is not “natural” to the body’s ability to walk on real ground. Increasing the incline gives your body a more realistic path, more similar to what you do each day.
- Slopes - if you are a little more steady with your walking, try choosing an outdoor space with gentle slopes if possible. This will give you a more challenging workout overall, and allow the pelvic floor to strengthen and stabilize being “unsteady”.
- Use your glutes! Be sure your glute muscles are activated while walking; walking uphill and can help you to engage these muscles more clearly. Walk with a purpose and make sure those glutes are fired up!
- Squats are one of the best exercises you can do for optimal glute health, and therefore, help keep the pelvic floor healthy and strong as well. You can make squats more challenging by adding weight with dumbbells or kettlebells, and you can simplify by adding a chair or box underneath you. When performing squats, it is very important that the form is correct or you could create more problems. Here are some tips on good squat form:
- Stand with your feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart, and toes slightly turned out. The turnout should not come from the knees, but from the hip rotators.
- Be sure that you are engaging your core throughout the entire exercise. Inhale on the way down, and exhaling on the way up.
- Make sure you are hinging at the hips, sending the butt back into space, and keeping the knees just over the toes.
- Keep the shoulders back and be careful not to round your low back.
In any exercise, it's important to breathe deeply, and engage the working muscles in a mindful way.