Your Functional Pelvic Floor - Why it's not just about remembering to squeeze
I recently had an exchange with a commercial underwear brand regarding some marketing messaging that I felt was putting women at harm of worsening pelvic floor dysfunction. To the brands credit, they did eventually concede that their messaging was not appropriate and agreed to pull the advert, but their primary defence that they do also encourage women to do their pelvic floor exercises got me thinking.
You see it's not just about remembering to fit in a few squeezes of your pelvic floor every so often. When I ask new clients about their pelvic floor, they usually start by telling me whether or not they have been doing their pelvic floor exercises...but that's not quite what I asked. One of the biggest challenges, in my opinion, is that we need to shift away from viewing the pelvic floor as being this separate entity that works in isolation. As something we're supposed to do few squeezes of now and again. As something that affects us rather than is part of us. We need to CONNECT with it, and OWN it. It is a part of us, and actually a pretty impressive part at that!
Your pelvic floor provides support to the pelvic organs such as the bladder, uterus and bowel, and it is important in controlling continence (urinary, faecal and wind). But it's role doesn't stop there. The pelvic floor also has an important role in pregnancy and childbirth, helping to support the growing uterus and being involved in the birthing process. It plays a role in sexual function in men and women and when functioning well can contribute to greater sensation and arousal. Importantly, the pelvic floor plays a much wider role in stabilising our torso, working together with the muscles of the abdomen, back and respiratory diaphragm. Here proving the point that the pelvic floor does not exist and function in isolation - it is an important part of your body system.
One of the most common symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction is leaking urine during activities that place pressure on the pelvic floor, such as sneezing, coughing, laughing, running or jumping (known as stress incontinence). If you are experiencing leakage, this is a good sign from your body that your pelvic floor is not functioning well and it needs some attention. So what should you do? Here are my top tips:
1. Listen to the warning signs:
If you are experiencing any leaking, that is your body's way of telling you that something is not right. Please, do not ignore it. Pushing on through and hoping it will go away is not going to help! If you are doing exercises that are placing pressure on your pelvic floor, such as running, jumping, or lifting heavy weights then please stop those exercises and seek help. It does not mean stopping forever, it means stopping temporarily so that you can rehab your pelvic floor with a view to returning once good function is restored. Otherwise you risk worsening the dysfunction, even possibly risking eventual prolapse, and then you are going to find that far more difficult to come back from!
2. Seek Professional Help:
I strongly recommend that you are seen by a Women's Health Physiotherapist. You can either seek an NHS referral via your GP or find a private Women's Health Physiotherapist who can help you. Through the nature of what I teach, I have a lot of clients come to me with some degree of pelvic floor dysfunction and, whilst I can offer general exercises and guidance to help, I will always recommend seeing a Women's Health Physio. They will be able to do an internal examination and advise specifically on what areas you need to work on.
3. Do your pelvic floor exercises - with purpose!