Like many parts of our body, the pelvic floor is something that most people don’t think about until it starts presenting problems. Unbeknownst to most, the pelvic floor is one of the most important groups of muscles in our body. They work in conjunction with other muscle groups to assist with bladder and bowel control, support posture, and is important for sexual function and intimacy.
As one of Calgary’s leading pelvic health physiotherapy clinics, we experience first-hand the impacts that stressed, weak, and injured pelvic floor muscles can have on our bodies.
What Is Your “Pelvic Floor”?
Your pelvic floor is an interwoven series of muscle fibres, tissue, and ligaments that are connected to your pelvic and tailbone. It acts as a support system for the organs located in your pelvic area, including your bladder, small intestine, rectum, and in women, the uterus and vagina.
Functions of the Pelvic Floor
One of the essential functions of the pelvic floor is the monitoring and control of your bladder and bowel. The pelvic floor is responsible for contracting the sphincters – bands of muscle that wrap around the urethra and anus – and regulating our bladder/bowel function.
Injuries that damage the pelvic floor, such as lower back disc herniations, can cause a loss of bladder or bowel control.
The pelvic floor is also part of proper sexual function, with a strong pelvic floor contributing to sexual sensation, arousal, and function.
Health Conditions Your Pelvic Floor Plays a Role In
- Incontinence: difficulty controlling bladder or bowels
- Pelvic organ prolapse such as the uterus, bladder or rectum
- Sexual dysfunction
- ladder function (overactive bladder) or difficulties urinating or regulating urine flow
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
The loss of proper control of the pelvic floor muscles is called pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD). This can result in challenging, painful, and often embarrassing symptoms, from minor incontinence to persistent constipation.
Causes of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
There are a myriad of causes for PFD, from sports-related injuries to childbirth.
Childbirth is a common cause of PFD. Throughout pregnancy the baby has placed significant pressure on the pelvic floor, and the body has compensated by causing the pelvic floor to become softer and more relaxed. During childbirth, the body releases hormones that cause the pelvic floor muscles to allow the baby to descend through the birth canal.
The act of delivery takes a toll on the pelvic floor, as the pelvic floor expands and compresses, pulls and pushes, while the baby makes its way through.
Other risk factors for PFD include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Chronic, long-term constipation
- Stress and extreme exertion when attempting to urinate or defecate
- Heavy lifting
- Physical stress in the midsection, particularly when laughing or coughing
- Damage from prior surgeries, such as prostate surgery or surgery that repaired internal sphincter damage.
Maintaining a Healthy Pelvic Floor & Recovering From PFD
As you now know, the pelvic floor is an important part of our health and is something that we should safeguard. Physiotherapy is an effective mechanism that is suitable for both injury recovery and proactive health- we’d love to be your partners on your pelvic health journey.
How We Work Together to Influence Your Pelvic Health
The nature of our relationship is initially defined by your needs: recovering from an injury requires a different approach than addressing chronic symptoms, both of which must be treated differently compared to someone without injury that is simply being proactive.
Once we have determined how we’ll work together, we can then employ a number of disciplines to help us achieve our goals. These include:
- Specialized exercises that will build your awareness of your pelvic floor. The pelvic floor needs to be a coordinated system with your diaphragm, deep low back muscles, and deep lower abdominal muscles. Often, this means teaching the pelvic floor how to relax as well as how to contract. You can improve your pelvic health but learning strategies that teach this system to become more responsive to functional demands.
- Learn how to move naturally, while optimizing your coordinated system. The pelvis is the central piece of your body that connects your top and bottom. Postural habits, lifestyle tendencies, and poor ergonomics can leave your system struggling to work at it’s best. Often, the pelvic floor is the victim. Physiotherapists are experts at movement and we look at each specific part of your alignment that may need some adjustments in order for your pelvic floor to perform at it’s best.
- Hands on techniques to guide the pelvic floor and the rest of the system. Manual therapy is a hands-on skill that our physiotherapists use each and every day. With our hands, we can tell if a muscle is tight or weak, if a tissue is free to move or tied up, or if there is a mis-connection between what you are asking the pelvic floor to do and what is really happening. With these hands-on skills we provide the ability for the muscle or tissue to release, engage, and respond the way it is supposed to.
- Tools of the trade: acupuncture, muscle stimulation, biofeedback. The use of additional tools called modalities is another way for us physiotherapists to make an impact for change in your body, especially at the pelvic floor. Acupuncture can address many pelvic issues such as incontinence and pain. But what some people overlook is that acupuncture is also a very effective way of improving the autonomic nervous system efficiency, which is the key driver in how the pelvis functions. Additionally, we may use internal or external muscle stimulation, performed with a small and gentle current of electricity, to “teach” the muscles how to contract and relax properly. Biofeedback is another tool that utilizes cues to retrain the brain’s connection to the pelvic floor.