The messages to stay healthy are many: watch what we eat, exercise regularly, get enough rest.
Women have specific health requirements too, such as maintaining breast health and reproductive well-being. Missing from that list are important details about pelvic health. It’s necessary for women to understand why your pelvic floor matters.
What is the Pelvic Floor?
What we call the pelvic floor is the muscle and tissue that hold the organs in place inside the bones of the pelvis. Your pelvic floor is like a hammock that keeps your bladder, intestines and reproductive organs situated; it also supports the function of urination, bowel movements, sex, pregnancy, and delivery of babies. 1
Your pelvic floor is working for you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Besides supporting your bladder and colon, the muscles of the pelvic floor help the bladder and rectum contract and relax on demand when you need them. These muscles also contract during sex. 2
We tend to take the pelvic floor muscles for granted, since it’s easy to forget about them when they’re working properly. However, when these muscles are too loose or too tight, problems can occur.
What Can Go Wrong with the Pelvic Floor
It’s apparent why your pelvic floor matters when things go wrong.
Here’s what women can be faced with when the muscles become weak or damaged:
- Incontinence or urinary leakage.
- Accidental bowel leakage, or fecal incontinence.
- Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP), when your uterus, bladder, or rectum (or other tissues and organs) drop from their normal position.
If pelvic floor muscles are too tight, it’s hard to relax. That can cause these symptoms: 2
- Difficult bowel movements or constipation.
- Incomplete bladder emptying or a weak urinary stream
- Burning during urination.
- Pain when having sex.
It’s important to note that men can have issues with pelvic floor muscles too.
Pelvic Floor Health
Just as with other parts of our bodies, women can take steps to maintain our pelvic health. Some of the guidance, such as not smoking, supports all areas of your well-being. Others are specific to pelvic health, like doing Kegel exercises to maintain muscle strength, or practicing meditation or relaxation exercises if muscles are too tight.
Here are other suggestions:
- Try to avoid getting constipated.
- Avoid prolonged toileting, and straining or pushing during bowel movements and when urinating.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid heavy lifting, which can lead to organ prolapse.
Yoga is another practice with health benefits, including pelvic well-being. Yoga helps strengthen your core, and can also strengthen your pelvic floor and aid in relaxation and mental health.
You’re Not Alone
Women who suffer from pelvic floor issues often feel alone, which is far from the truth. Incontinence and even prolapse are common conditions for women, and they can negatively affect your quality of life. If symptoms are interfering with your work or personal life, you may want to consider treatment. 3 If you’re suffering from pelvic pain, it’s important to seek help. 4
The first step is finding a qualified physician. There are some treatments that can be effective, including physical therapy involving pelvic floor muscle exercises. It all starts with understanding why your pelvic floor matters.