Pelvic Floor: 101
One thing that comes up again and again in conversations with those of us who have vaginas is pelvic floor health. Even though you may have heard of the controversial jade eggs and have probably tried a kegel exercise or two, that may be the extent of your knowledge of the pelvic floor and all its muscles. I’m going to bet that you probably don’t know what the muscles do, what happens when they aren’t working well, and how that can impact you.
So what exactly is the pelvic floor?
It’s a group of muscles that act like a hammock to support the organs of the pelvis. They are located at the base of the pelvis, between the coccyx and the pubis. These muscles are in charge of helping us pee, poop, and have sex. When it is time to “go”, these muscles need to relax. There should be no need to force your pee and poop out! It’s actually involuntary contractions of the bladder and rectum, not the pelvic floor muscles that allow you to evacuate and void.
The pelvic floor muscles also help us prevent leaks when we laugh, cough, sneeze and jump. They work as a quick reflex contraction to protect you from this. You may develop problems where they do not contract in time (i.e. incontinence) or if they do not relax properly (i.e. constipation).
Symptoms of Pelvic Floor Dysfunctions
When it comes to a pelvic floor dysfunction, the symptoms can range from mildly embarrassing to fully debilitating. Common symptoms include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Urinary or fecal incontinence
- Painful menstrual periods
- Difficulty with defecation
Let’s talk about SEX
That’s right! We are going there. If it wasn’t for our pelvic floor muscles, sex just wouldn’t be possible or pleasurable. It’s our pelvic floor muscles that are in charge of the amount of sensation experienced. During an orgasm, the pelvic floor muscles contract rhythmically. For those with penises, the pelvic floor muscles also contract to maintain an erection and to release the semen. After sex, these muscles release completely and relax.
A study found that women who had moderate to strong pelvic floor muscles had higher, functional, scores when it came to orgasms and arousal. You can see how important it is to have properly functioning muscles to allow for pleasure and to bask in the afterglow of sex.
To kegel or not to kegel
A common recommendation that women get is to do kegel exercises in order to stop incontinence or improve a prolapse. But, kegel exercises should no longer be a general recommendation because the idea that “stronger is better” needs to go out the door. I can’t stress enough that when you engage and contract your pelvic floor muscles during a kegel, you must also adequately relax these muscles. Strong might be good, but tight and tense is definitely not.
A kegel is also more than just contracting your muscles. It’s all about timing it with your breath, making sure you have a nice “pull up” action, and ensuring that you are able to fully relax after the contraction. Do you need to work on endurance? Strength? Relaxation? Control? Timing? This is why finding a good pelvic floor therapist is important so that they can assess your pelvic floor and give you immediate, individualized feedback.
Befriend your pelvic floor
Think of your pelvic floor like the BFF you need to take better care of. Since it’s there to support you (i.e. your pelvic organs), you should also support it by adding the following into your daily rituals:
Work on lengthening those muscles!
It’s very likely that you hold some tension in your pelvic floor muscles. Trust me, you don’t want an uptight pelvic floor. Deep squats (“ass to grass”) are a great way to lengthen your muscles.
Deep breathing is crucial
If you cannot breathe correctly, you won’t be able to properly contract and relax your pelvic floor muscles.
It’s apparent that focusing on strong gluteal muscles while doing fewer Kegels goes a long way. Strengthening your glutes is a fantastic way to support your pelvic floor muscles without causing them to shorten and tighten too much.
Stool and go
We should all have a stool in the bathroom that allows us to raise our knees up higher than our belly button during urination (for those of us without a penis) and defecation. We aren’t meant to sit at a 90-degree angle. Raising our knees can help relax our pelvic floor muscles to properly defecation and void.
Just like anything in your body, it’s unwise to focus on just one part. So, in addition to the above, remember proper posture, using good body mechanics when lifting/pushing/pulling, etc., keeping your hip and core muscles strong and increasing your overall activity.
If you think pelvic floor therapy might be right for you, be sure to book in advance because there are few of these specialists so they’re in high demand.