Among the pelvic health conditions that can affect women, pelvic floor dysfunction is one that you may have heard or read about.
There are actually two types of pelvic floor dysfunction: high tone pelvic floor dysfunction and low tone pelvic floor dysfunction. Depending on the definition, the percentage of women believed to be suffering from pelvic floor dysfunction ranges from 30% to 50%. 1
Let’s take a look at the differences, with a focus on understanding high tone pelvic floor dysfunction and what you can do about it.
Understanding the Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor consists of the muscles between your pubic bone and tailbone that support your pelvic organs. The floor serves like a hammock, holding up the bladder, bowel, vagina and other reproductive organs. The muscles maintain bladder and bowel control, and they contribute to sexual sensations.
When your pelvic floor is healthy, you don’t even think about it. But there can be issues with the pelvic floor, when the muscles become weak, for instance, and the organs drop to create what’s called prolapse. Other women suffer from incontinence, or there are other symptoms that point to fibroids or cysts in your pelvic region.
There’s also a condition called pelvic floor dysfunction.
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
This condition arises when the “hammock” or muscles are either too tight or too weak, making it difficult to control the muscles. That can lead to constipation, incontinence and other side effects.
Even with this condition, there are two types: Low tone and high tone pelvic floor dysfunction.
1. Low Tone Pelvic Floor Dysfunction: This happens when the “hammock” or pelvic floor becomes weak, and muscles can’t hold the pelvic organs up. That leads to the inability to hold in urine and stool, or stress incontinence, weak or absent orgasms, and eventually prolapse. 2
2. High Tone Pelvic Floor Dysfunction: In this situation, the pelvic floor muscles are tense, inflexible, or even spasm. The muscles tighten so much that they don’t move or stretch, causing stress on the pelvic and public bones, and discomfort with the muscles. 2
Symptoms of high-tone dysfunction include pain during sex, pain with building sexual arousal or at orgasm, and pain with bowel movements. 3 It can also lead to the inability to tolerate wearing tampons or getting a pelvic exam, and an ache in the pelvis from muscle stress on the lower spine and tailbone. 2 Other symptoms include chronic pelvic pain that radiates to the groin, abdomen and back, a strong or frequent urge to urinate, and burning during urination, as well as urinary incontinence and vaginal burning. 4
High tone dysfunction can actually occur when the muscles are weak or strong. 2 Those tight or spasmed pelvic floor muscles are as dysfunctional as weak pelvic floor muscles leading you to wonder how to deal with this condition. 3
What Can You Do About High Tone Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
We’re often told that pelvic strengthening exercises like Kegels are vital to our pelvic health, and that’s usually good advice. But in the case of high tone pelvic floor dysfunction, active relaxation is as important as muscle strengthening. 3 Doing too many Kegels without adequate relaxation both during and in between exercises can make matters worse. 2
There are different ways that your doctor may choose to treat high tone pelvic floor dysfunction. Here are a few treatment options:
- Physiotherapy to restore normal tone to the pelvic floor. You will learn techniques to improve the condition, usually from a physical therapist who specializes in this condition. 4 For instance, the therapist may provide exercises targeted at specific muscles in your lower back, pelvis and pelvic floor. 5
- You may also receive exercises to help you relax, or other suggestions for relaxation such as yoga or meditation. 5
- Muscle relaxants to try and calm the tight pelvic floor muscles. 4
- Treatments to help related conditions, like stress. Individuals who have trouble coping with stress may be carrying tension in the pelvic floor muscles, for instance. 2
- Your doctor may suggest other therapies to help with the muscle issues.
The First Step
If you suspect you have high tone pelvic floor dysfunction, or any other pelvic issues, you should visit your doctor. Use our Physician Finder to seek out a women’s health and pelvic floor specialist in your area. Then you can seek diagnosis and treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction and any other health concerns.