Pelvic Floor 101- What is it, Where is it & How do I strengthen it?
Did you know that 1 in 3 women experience some form of pelvic floor dysfunction or urinary continence?
You may hear us say 'Turn on your TA' or "Engage your Pelvic Floor" in the studio, but if you don't know you don't know. Pelvic floor exercises are usually associated with pregnancy and, well, post-pregnancy, but it isn’t just during this period that you should focus on keeping this area strong.Considering your pelvic floor muscles support and give us control over our bowel, bladder and uterus, it’s probably something worth doing, right? We have composed some really great info in pelvic floor giving you the what, where, how and why working these muscles is so important at every stage of life.
What are Pelvic Floor muscles?
Pelvic floor muscles are the layer of muscles that support the pelvic organs and span the bottom of the pelvis. The pelvic organs are the bladder and bowel in men, and bladder, bowel and uterus in women. Although the pelvic floor is hidden from view, it can be consciously controlled and therefore trained, much like our arm, leg or abdominal muscles.
What do Pelvic Floor muscles do?
Pelvic floor muscles provide support to the organs that lie on it. The sphincters give us conscious control over the bladder and bowel so that we can control the release of urine, faeces (poo) and flatus (wind) and allow us to delay emptying until it is convenient. When the pelvic floor muscles are contracted, the internal organs are lifted and the sphincters tighten the openings of the vagina, anus and urethra. Relaxing the pelvic floor allows passage of urine and faeces.
Pelvic floor muscles are also important for sexual function in both men and women. In men, it is important for erectile function and ejaculation. In women, voluntary contractions (squeezing) of the pelvic floor contribute to sexual sensation and arousal.
The pelvic floor muscles in women also provide support for the baby during pregnancy and assist in the birthing process.
The muscles of the pelvic floor work with the abdominal and back muscles to stabilise and support the spine.
What can make these muscles loose?
Common causes of a weakened pelvic floor include pregnancy, childbirth, heavy lifting, high impact exercise, age, obesity and the associated straining of chronic constipation or coughing. Pelvic floor exercises are designed to improve muscle tone and prevent the need for corrective surgery.
How to do Pelvic Floor Exercises
You can start toning your pelvic muscles as you read. Just follow these simple steps.
1 Squeeze the muscles that you use to stop your urine flow. Make sure to focus on only your pelvic muscles. Now pretend your vagina is a lift and you are going upwards. Be careful not to squeeze the muscles of the leg, buttock or abdomen instead.
2 Hold for at least 4 seconds. The more often you do this, the “higher” you can go. Try holding for up to 10 seconds.
3 Slowly exhale through your mouth and gradually release the hold. Repeat 10–20 times in a row at least 3 times a day.
4 You can test your pelvic floor muscles with a simple stop–start test. When using the bathroom, begin to urinate and cut off the flow by contracting the muscles. If you experience better control than before, you know the pelvic floor exercises are working.
Switching Up Your Exercises
To maximize the benefits of your pelvic floor workout, exercise the muscles with both long and short squeezes, repeating until the muscles feel tired. There are two types of exercises:
• LONG SQUEEZES Tighten your pelvic floor muscles and hold for several seconds and then relax for the same length of time. Start with 5 seconds and work your way up to 10 seconds as you get practice.
• SHORT SQUEEZES Tighten your pelvic floor muscles for one second, then relax.
Making Pelvic Floor Exercises a Routine
Here are some ideas for fitting pelvic floor exercises into your schedule. Try to work your pelvic floor exercises into existing routines to help make your pelvic floor stronger. That way, you can use it when you need it.
• Driving. As long as your pelvic floor exercises don’t distract you from driving, flex and release on your way to the grocery store, as you leave the bank, or en route to any other errands you run regularly.
• Cooking. Try to focus on your pelvic floor muscles as you carry out simple, routine cooking tasks, like stirring a pot or washing up dishes.
• Watching TV. Have favorite programs you never miss? Exercise as you view – no one around you even knows you’re busy re–claiming control of your bladder!
• At work. Do you work at a desk for extended periods? Use any downtime to work out those pelvic floor muscles.
• Reading. Whether it’s the morning paper or that newest novel you can’t put down, reading as you exercise helps your repetitions fly by.
• Bedtime. As you wind down each night, finish your last set of pelvic floor exercises before drifting off to sleep. If you keep at it, nightmares of bed pads may be a thing of the past.
Additional Exercises that Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor
Though you may not feel it, your pelvic floor is activated in conjunction with other muscles when performing certain movements, and not just during exercises that specifically target the pelvic floor. Here are a few body weight exercises that help strengthen those important little muscles. They don’t require any equipment and are easy to do in the comfort of your home.
• Keep your feet hip width apart
• Engage your ab muscles (and tighten your pelvic floor, too!)
• Keeping your back lower back braced, lower your body into a squat
• To avoid injury, make sure your knees stay in line with your toes
• Rise back up to standing position
• Lie on the floor
• Bend your knees and place your feet firmly on the floor, your knees in line with your hips
• Keeping your back lower back braced, lower your body into a squat
• Tighten your pelvic floor muscles and push your hips up off the floor, keeping your back straight
• Hold this position for 10 seconds
• Start on all fours, making sure to keep your wrists aligned under your shoulders, and your knees under your hips
• Be sure to keep your head facing down so your spine is in alignment
• Tighten your abs, lower back, and pelvic floor muscles
• Simultaneously raise your right arm and left leg until they are straight. Do not raise your head. Hold this position for 5 seconds
• Lower your arm and leg back to starting position while maintaining stability. Perform the same movement, but with your left arm and right leg. Hold for five seconds
• Repeat 5 times on each side
After 4–6 weeks of working out your pelvic floor muscles regularly, you may start to notice an improvement in your urinary incontinence symptoms.
If you’ve made a habit of pelvic floor exercises and don’t notice an improvement in your sensitive bladder symptoms, it’s time to talk to your doctor. He or she may recommend combining pelvic floor exercises with other treatments like sensitive bladder training or other medications, devices, or procedures to help you manage your incontinence.
If you’ve tried and have trouble doing pelvic floor exercises, you may want to see a physical therapist who specializes in women’s pelvic health. A physical therapist may suggest biofeedback. Biofeedback is a training technique that may be useful if you have problems locating the correct muscles. With biofeedback, you're connected to electrical sensors that help you receive information (feedback) about your body (bio). This feedback helps you focus on making subtle changes in your body, such as flexing your pelvic muscles, more successfully.
Try a bladder friendly diet
Avoid foods like caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, carbonated beverages, and spicy foods. All of these can alter the acidity of your urine, making your incontinence symptoms worse.
While drinking too much of anything will create an urge to go, a critical tool for dealing with incontinence is to drink plenty of water. Sure, this may sound counterintuitive. After all, if you feel like you have to urinate, it might make sense to limit your fluid intake. However, not drinking enough water results in highly concentrated urine, which will irritate your bladder. Be sure to drink 6 to 8 glasses of water a day.
Weight management can help alleviate the symptoms of adult incontinence as extra pounds put pressure on the bladder’s muscles, which can lead to stress incontinence. Simply going for more walks around the block is an easy, straight-forward way to get moving.
If you are needing help or guidance and are wanting to make some positive changes to the health of your pelvic floor, why don't you book in with Laura, our PT for a FREE 15 minute chat on what are the best ways for you to heal, strengthen and move forward with confidence in this area of your life.
Contact us on 0404 771 733 or pop into the studio at 1/49 Rogers St, Stanthorpe. We would love to help you.