What Is the Pelvic Floor?
If you're wondering what the pelvic floor muscle actually is, it's one body part that maintains many functions. Supporting your bladder, uterus, bowel, rectum, and more, the pelvic floor muscles are some of the most essential parts of your anatomy.
The floor of the pelvis includes layers of muscles and many other tissues, reaching from the tailbone in the back of the body to the pubic bone. Because a woman’s pelvic floor carries the bladder, uterus, and colon, the pelvic floor helps support the bladder and bowels and helps with sexual function. Here's a rundown of how the pelvic floor works and what happens when it doesn't function like it should.
How to Find Your Pelvic Floor
It sounds easy to describe where the pelvic floor muscle is, but it may be easier said than done when it comes to actually feeling for yourself. Here are some tips on how to locate them.
While Lying Down
Lie down with the muscles of your stomach, thighs, and buttocks relaxed. Tighten the muscle of the back passage as if you’re trying to hold in gas, and relax the muscle. Squeeze in and let go for a few more times to get a sense of the muscles. Don’t squeeze in your buttocks, as those are different muscles entirely.
While in the Bathroom
When using the restroom, try to stop the stream of urine, and start again. This isn't something you should do on a regular basis or as a way to exercise the pelvic floor. But it may help you understand what muscles are needed to activate the pelvic floor.
What Is Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?
Just like anything else, these muscles can start to act up. Pelvic floor dysfunction is a common condition that can affect both women and men. It takes place when the pelvic floor muscles can’t relax and coordinate, which causes difficulty when peeing or having a bowel movement.
With a healthy pelvic floor, the body naturally tightens and relaxes these muscles easily. With dysfunction in this area, the muscles never relax. They keep tightening and may result in an interruption when going to the bathroom, such as an incomplete bowel movement.
In addition, you might notice pain during sex. Pelvic floor dysfunction can also cause random bladder leaks and drips, also known as urinary incontinence. However, Nexwear's pads and underwear can help you manage leaks.
Causes of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
Pelvic floor dysfunction usually happens for one of the following reasons:
- Overuse of the pelvic muscles: Going to the bathroom too often or pushing too much when passing a bowel movement can weaken the pelvic floor. Dietary changes and stool softeners can help when constipation is the primary reason for pelvic floor dysfunction.
- Advancing age: Changes in the body as it matures, such as lower levels of estrogen and other vital hormones after menopause, can lead to the weakening of the pelvic floor. Medical devices, such as a vaginal pessary, can help keep pelvic organs in place for increased comfort when this occurs.
- Weight: The excess pressure bearing down on internal organs when you're overweight can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction. A regular exercise routine and changes in diet can get you back into fighting shape, while exercise routines that include vaginal weights and Kegel balls may improve pelvic wall function. Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
- Pregnancy: Supporting the weight of a child during pregnancy and potentially overstretching muscles during vaginal childbirth, make pregnancy one of the main drivers of pelvic floor dysfunction.
- Pelvic surgery or injury: Whether you've had surgery down there or experienced an injury, pelvic floor weakness may be the result. Physical therapy and more surgery may be options in these instances when your body needs some help retraining the pelvic floor muscles.
- Genes: Medical professionals are still researching the exact correlation, but some research shows that this dysfunction is hereditary.
How Do You Know If Your Pelvic Floor Is Weak?
Now that you know what the pelvic floor muscle is, you're probably wondering if yours is performing as it should. The good news is that symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction are fairly noticeable and typically easy to treat. These symptoms include:
- Urinary incontinence: While everything might flow just fine most of the time, early signs of pelvic floor dysfunction include urinary incontinence when you least expect it, such as when you sneeze, cough, or even laugh a little too hard.
- Frequent urination: If you find yourself looking for the bathroom whenever you go to a new place such as a mall or restaurant, you may need some help with your pelvic floor. Frequent urination is one of the main signs of dysfunction and points to the need for a doctor visit.
- Pelvic heaviness: If you're feeling heaviness in your pelvic area, including bulging near the vaginal opening or a dragging feeling in the back of the pelvis, you may be experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction.
- Sexual dysfunction: Sexual dysfunction caused by pelvic floor weakness shows itself in a couple of ways. First, you may experience reduced sensation within the vagina during intercourse. Other symptoms include pain in the vulva and even the inability to orgasm.
- Gas: If you find yourself passing gas when you bend over, you may need some help with strengthening your pelvic floor muscles.
Pelvic Floor Exercises
While the idea of a dysfunctional pelvic floor can be anxiety-inducing, your doctor may recommend a few pelvic floor exercises to keep these muscles strong.
- Kegels: Kegels are one of the most beneficial strengthening exercises. With this exercise, you contract and hold the pelvic floor muscles for 5 seconds and then release for 5 seconds. It’s recommended to do this exercise in sets of 10, about three times a day, if your doctor approves it.
- Squats: Squats actually help engage some of the largest muscles in the body. With the correct form and resistance, you can help build endurance and strengthen the pelvic floor.
- Bridges: Known for working out the glutes, the pause and pulse of a bridge exercise can also help activate your pelvic floor muscles.
Diet and the Pelvic Floor
Like with every other aspect of our health, diet plays another part in maintaining a strong pelvic floor. Aim for an increase of fiber in your diet if you don’t already eat enough. Fiber helps with bowel movements, so you can avoid overusing or straining your muscles. However, be sure to drink plenty of water, too. Excess fiber can cause constipation if you don’t consume enough fluid, and constipation can also contribute to a weakened pelvic floor.
Foods with magnesium often prove extremely beneficial for the pelvic floor, as this mineral is crucial for nerve and muscle function. Foods with magnesium include bananas, potatoes, and nuts, to name a few. Magnesium is also known for having a laxative effect, which can make your stool softer and easier to pass.
Women with high amounts of vitamin D are less likely to have a weakened pelvic floor. Vitamin D affects skeletal muscle strength and function, so stocking up on foods with vitamin D, such as eggs and oily fish, can be beneficial. You can also boost your vitamin D by getting a healthy dose of sun, meaning lounging or reading outside may have benefits you never considered.
Staying in Tip-Top Shape
As you've learned here, the pelvic floor is crucial to your everyday movements, so you need to take care of it. It's beneficial to learn about and locate those muscles to really understand their importance in your quality of life. Though pelvic floor dysfunction may be frustrating, it's not always a permanent condition. With a series of exercises and dietary choices, you can stay healthy and strong and keep everything flowing smoothly.If you think your pelvic floor needs a little extra support, Nexwear has you covered with pads and underwear delivered right to your door. Start your trial today.