Problems with the pelvic floor are really common – up to one in three of us girls experience symptoms during our lifetimes.
Many women believe that they are an inevitable consequence of giving birth or getting older but actually for lots of women effective, non-surgical treatment is available. Remember that our pelvic floor are muscles and some of us need to learn to strengthen them up and others need to learn to relax them and let them go.
Most women have heard of pelvic floor exercises, which involve you squeezing and lifting your pelvic floor (the hammock of muscles that run from the back of your pelvis to your pubic bones at the front). Exercises where you contract your pelvic floor are often recommended if you tend to leak a lot of urine when you cough, laugh, sneeze or take part in high impact exercises such as running (stress incontinence).
However, sometimes the pelvic floor can be too tight, which means that they are effectively weakened by constantly overworking and being in a contracted state. If your pelvic floor is over working and then your bladder is suddenly put under pressure, they can’t generate enough power to quickly shut off the flow of urine. Under these circumstances, working on exercises that tighten the pelvic floor can make things worse. Often women with overactive pelvic floor muscles experience persistent pelvic pain, a sudden urge to urinate, a need to urinate frequently (even if their bladder isn’t full), difficulty initiating a flow of urine, or fully emptying their bladder, constipation, tailbone pain and pain during sex.
If you’re having problems with your pelvic floor don’t ignore them! Visit your GP or gynaecologist to rule out any medical issues. If you feel that your pelvic floor muscles may be over active, practice relaxing them with regular down regulating training exercises.
Practicing deep abdominal breathing can really help to relax the pelvic floor muscles so have a go at this exercise:
- Lie down relaxed on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand on your chest and the other hand on your tummy.
- Inhale and fill your tummy with air. Move the breath down and lower your pelvic floor, letting it relax, open and let go.
- Exhale without effort, starting from the ribs, then down to the pelvic floor.
Tip: Your lower hand should rise up and down on your tummy in time with your breath, while your top hand remains still. Keep each breath relaxed and steady, breathing in for 3 seconds and out for 3 seconds. Repeat for 5 minutes every day. The benefits of this exercise practice will include a more relaxed state, as well as a more relaxed pelvic floor!
If you need more help try visiting a women’s health physio for more specialist help and advice. Yoga and Pilates can also be really helpful. I normally recommend Pilates for those that need to strengthen and tighten and yoga for those that need to relax and let go.