Your Pelvic Health: Understanding Pelvic Floor Dysfunction and How to Prevent It
First thing’s first about your Pelvic Health: Can you locate the pelvis on your body? Your pelvis is located between your abdomen and your legs.
Think of your pelvic floor as a basket of muscles and connective tissues at the bottom of your pelvis. It forms the base of your core. These muscles help support your internal organs, stabilize your hips and trunk, and are responsible for both bladder and bowel support. The pelvic floor also plays an important role in sexual function for both men and women!
If your pelvic floor is weak or tight, you might experience pelvic pain, low back and hip pain, urinary incontinence and sexual dysfunction.
So what are some ways we can prevent pelvic floor dysfunction?
No.1: Understanding pressure management
When you take a deep breath, where do you feel the pressure on your inhale? Does it go to your belly or back? Into your chest? Or downward into your pelvic floor? Can you feel your pelvic floor relaxing or contracting? Does it feel tight or loose? A healthy pelvic floor should be able to contract and lengthen. In order to prevent pelvic floor dysfunction, we must first bring awareness to our bodies. Let’s dive right into it!
Firstly, you can think of your trunk as a core canister: with your diaphragm at the top, your abdominals wrapping around your spine to your belly button like a cylinder, and your pelvic floor making up the floor of the canister. This system works together to create and regulate pressure in the abdominal cavity. This pressure management helps us:
- Stabilize the spine and pelvis
- Supports functional movement (e.g. brace for lifting, bending, etc…)
- Manage or alleviate heaviness in the pelvic floor, hernias, leaking, incontinence,… etc.
- Support during the pushing phase of childbirth
- And much more!
Our core is integrated with our breathing because of the influence of our diaphragm.
When we inhale deeply, our diaphragm should descend and our ribs expand— 360 degrees — so our lungs can fill with air. This movement should also cause our pelvic floor to relax and descend, allowing space for the downward pressure of the diaphragm. Thus, as we inhale we are lengthening and stretching the core canister (the abdominals in the front and the back, and the pelvic floor down), increasing the pressure in the abdominal cavity.
When we exhale, our diaphragm ascends back up and our pelvic floor should follow with a contraction. If there are any “dents” in the canister, where one of the parts is doing too much or too little work, i.e. a weak or tight pelvic floor, overworking abdominals, a lack of rib mobility… etc., then the other parts might overcompensate to help accommodate the system, which can lead to dysfunction.
For example, a tight or hypertonic (higher toned) pelvic floor prevents pressure from going down. This can increase pressure on the belly, and worsen diastasis recti, a condition where the rectus abdominis muscles separate from being overstretched. To summarize, one way we can work to prevent pelvic floor dysfunction is through pressure management. We can train our core to regulate and control pressure by learning how to properly breathe, and connect each breath to pelvic floor contraction and relaxation— it all starts with good body awareness.
No. 2: Strengthening the pelvic floor and other muscles
Pelvic floor strength is more than just kegels. It’s all-encompassing! Working on your pelvic floor strength is important, but remember that the pelvic floor needs to be able to relax and lengthen as well, not only contract. If your pelvic floor is always holding a low level of contraction, the muscles of the pelvic floor will weaken overtime. We must learn to fully relax our pelvic floor in order to get a great contraction. Think of it like any other muscle in your body — you wouldn’t walk around flexing your biceps or your clenching your calves all the time! This tires the muscles, and in the case of the pelvic floor, it is a cause for leaks and pain.
If you want to strengthen your pelvic floor and prevent dysfunction, your best bet is to incorporate pelvic floor contractions and relaxations into your breathing exercises. There is no secret here, focusing on your breathing can fix a lot of things! It is also important to look at how the muscles in your body are functioning as a whole. Often times, tension in one area of the body can contribute to tension in your pelvic floor. Pay attention to your body right now, and see if you notice anywhere that you may be holding excessive tension. Are you clenching your jaw? Shrugging your shoulders?
Squeezing your glutes? Do your hips or mid-back feel tight? All of these are factors that can contribute to pelvic floor dysfunction.
Let’s try a quick exercise. Stand up and squeeze your glutes tight. Notice how your pelvis tucks under when you do this? Now try taking in a deep breath while holding this position. Notice where the air travels. Where do you feel the pressure? Are you able to relax the bottom of your core a.k.a your pelvic floor?
Clenching your glutes will often lead to clenching of the pelvic floor as well. And a shortened or tight muscle is ineffective at doing its job! In this case, a clenched pelvic floor will be less effective dealing with outside pressure and stresses—such as in heavy lifting—and this constant tension will weaken the muscles overtime, leading to issues of incontinence, prolapse,…etc. It’s a domino effect where one pattern of dysfunction leads to another. One way to stop this cycle and help your glute muscles relax is to build stronger glutes!
In summary, we must look at the whole body when treating and preventing pelvic floor dysfunction. Your pelvic floor problems could be stemming from the pelvic floor itself, or somewhere else along the kinetic chain.
No. 3: Fixing our posture
Having great posture more than just looks good, it also helps with both your core and pelvic floor function. Recall that in order to maintain bladder and bowel control, the pelvic floor works together with other parts of the core: the diaphragm and the deep abdominals. Poor posture leads to imbalances in any of these core muscle groups.
A hunched posture decreases alignment of the core (the diaphragm, abdominal wall and pelvic floor), leading to increased abdominal pressure. This puts a strain on the bladder, decreasing the ability of your pelvic floor to maintain continence. Conversely, a correct posture places the pelvis at the best angle to support the entire core. Even something as small as head posture can have an effect on your pelvic floor function!
So, what does good posture look like? (see figure below)
This proper alignment assists the pelvic floor muscles to fire naturally and get stronger!
How to Address Your Pelvic Health Problems
Find a local healthcare professional that specializes in Pelvic health. It is important to get a thorough assessment to understand your baseline issues before starting treatment.
At Kin Lab, you can visit our Kinesiologist through our Performance & Rehab and Physio Led Kinesiology program, who specializes in Pelvic Health rehab. They can guide you 1-on-1 through a personalized exercise program focused on your pelvic health.
Book a free 20-minute consultation with our Kinesiologist today!