Reviewed by: Missy Nolan
Your pelvic floor muscles support your pelvic organs and allow you to control urination and bowel movements. Pelvic floor dysfunction occurs when these muscles become overly tense or weak and can cause discomfort and continence issues.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is a common condition, and there are things you can do to address your symptoms and take back control of your health. Below, we'll explore the causes and symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction and explain how to get back to your happiest, healthiest self.
What Is Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?
Your pelvic floor contains a series of muscles connected by several ligaments. These ligaments and muscles work together to form a foundation, keeping your bowel, bladder, and reproductive organs in the correct position. They also protect your internal organs and allow you to control functions such as urination and defecation.
Pelvic floor dysfunction happens when some of these muscles or ligaments stop working or coordinating with each other. These issues cause your body to overcompensate by clenching down and over tightening your pelvic floor muscles.
Types of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
There are many types of pelvic floor dysfunction. The types that may lead to bladder leaks and drips include:
- Pelvic organ prolapse: A pelvic organ prolapse causes your pelvic organs to drop down into your vagina. In severe cases, they may protrude outside your vagina.
- Urethrocele:A urethrocele, also called urethral prolapse, is a type of pelvic organ prolapse that causes your urethra to press against your vagina. The condition can cause an urgent need to urinate, bladder leaks, and discomfort during sex.
- Enterocele:An enterocele occurs when the small intestine drops down and pushes into the vagina. It creates an uncomfortable bulge that could lead to sporadic drips and spritz, pelvic and lower back pain, and uncomfortable intercourse.
- Cystocele: A cystocele happens when your bladder and vaginal wall drop down into your vagina. This condition often causes a frequent need to urinate and bladder leakage. It can also make emptying your bladder more difficult.
- Uterine prolapse: A uterine prolapse is a specific type of pelvic organ prolapse. In this case, the uterus bulges into your vagina and may protrude outside. Uterine prolapses often cause discomfort, urinary incontinence, and difficulties urinating or having bowel movements.
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction Symptoms
Your pelvic floor controls several bodily functions, so pelvic floor dysfunction can cause a broad range of symptoms. These symptoms may look different for each person and often depend on the type of pelvic floor dysfunction. Common signs of pelvic floor dysfunction include:
- Pain or discomfort during sex
- Difficulty during bowel movements or constipation
- Painful urination
- Urgent or frequent need to urinate
- Bladder leaks
- Frequent urinary tract infections
- Lower back pain
What Causes Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?
Pelvic floor dysfunction has several potential causes. One of the most common causes is having a previous pregnancy. The weight of a baby pushing down on the pelvic floor can weaken the muscles and ligaments. If you’ve had more than one pregnancy, your risk of pelvic floor dysfunction is compounded. A long labor or difficulties during childbirth can also increase your risk of developing the condition.
The condition is more common in older adults, and being overweight can also put stress on your pelvic floor muscles and increase the risk of dysfunction.
Other potential causes of pelvic floor dysfunction include the following:
- A history of pelvic surgery
- Habits that place strain on your pelvic floor muscles and reduce coordination, such as using the bathroom too frequently
- An accident that injured your pelvic muscles
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction Treatments
The symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction can be uncomfortable and interrupt your lifestyle. While it can be tempting to ignore the issue, pelvic dysfunction doesn't usually improve without treatment. Fortunately, multiple options are available to treat the condition and help you regain control of your pelvic floor.
Before you decide on which treatment option you want to pursue, seek advice from a qualified medical practitioner. Find a doctor who specializes in conditions, such as pelvic floor dysfunction, and can recommend potential treatment options. They can diagnose the cause and extent of your pelvic floor dysfunction and recommend the most effective treatment options for your circumstances.
Your health-care provider will take your medical history and ask you to describe your symptoms. For example, your doctor may ask whether you have ever given birth or experienced pain during sex. They may also perform a physical exam or tests to diagnose issues with your pelvic floor muscles.
The treatment you receive ultimately depends on the type of pelvic floor dysfunction and your symptoms and goals. Treating pelvic floor dysfunction takes time, and being patient and flexible can help you achieve the best possible results. You may need to try several options to find the right treatment for resolved symptoms.
One of the most successful treatments for this condition is often biofeedback. According to the Mayo Clinic, around 70% of people with pelvic floor dysfunction find biofeedback helpful.
Biofeedback is a type of physical therapy that often involves using sensors to monitor how your pelvic floor muscles function. Your therapist observes your muscles as you tighten and relax them and provides feedback to help improve your pelvic floor coordination.
Other types of physical therapy can also help improve pelvic floor dysfunction. Doctors often recommend a combination of physical therapy and biofeedback to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and resolve symptoms such as urinary urgency or incontinence.
Your physical therapist will identify which pelvic floor muscles are causing dysfunction and teach you exercises, such as Kegels, to retrain and relax or strengthen them. The therapist may also focus on teaching you relaxation and breathing exercises to help with muscle coordination. Physical therapy is not always a quick fix. However, regular pelvic floor exercises may help you achieve excellent results over time.
Vaginal pessaries can help manage the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, but they won't treat the underlying cause. The pessaries are small rubber or silicone devices that you insert inside your vagina. The pessary helps hold your internal organs in the correct position, and experts believe they may improve the strength of your pelvic floor muscles over time. Vaginal pessaries could be a good option to control your symptoms while waiting for corrective surgery.
Surgery to correct pelvic floor dysfunction doesn't exist because the condition stems from your muscles. However, your doctor may recommend surgery if your condition causes a pelvic organ prolapse and noninvasive treatment options haven't worked. Prolapse repair surgery involves reconstructing the pelvic floor to hold your internal organs in position.
Straining to pass hard bowel movements can make pelvic floor dysfunction worse. Therefore, your doctor may recommend taking prescribed or over-the-counter stool softeners to ease constipation and reduce pressure on your pelvic floor.
Limit Certain Activities
While you're going through pelvic floor dysfunction therapy, it's important to avoid certain activities that can potentially make your symptoms worse. Weightlifting or activities involving jumping can put excessive strain on your pelvic floor and may exacerbate your symptoms. A visit to a trampoline park, for example, may not be a great idea. Certain gym classes may also put stress on your pelvic floor and bladder and cause stress incontinence.
Some people find relaxation techniques helpful for managing the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction. Relaxing activities, such as taking a bath or joining a yoga class, can ease tension in your pelvic floor muscles and help improve muscle control.
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction Explained
The pelvic floor provides essential support, so it's easy to notice when things go wrong. Fortunately, you don’t have to just suffer through it. While the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction can feel embarrassing, remember that the condition is common — particularly if you've given birth. In fact, the best thing you can do is talk about your symptoms or concerns with a medical professional. They’ll be able to determine what type of pelvic floor disorder you’re dealing with and create a treatment plan to ease your symptoms and restore control.
While you might not experience an overnight fix, a little patience and persistence can help you achieve good pelvic floor health. If you want to ensure you're protected from leaks while working on your pelvic floor, Nexwear has you covered with pads and underwear delivered right to your door. Start your trial today.
While pursuing her nursing degree, Missy aced her medical courses and was hired as a chiropractic assistant. After her second child was born, Missy left the chiropractic office and became a full-time medical writer. Since then, she's written thousands of articles about everything from urinary incontinence to neurological conditions and digestive health. Missy also appreciates a holistic approach toward wellness and is well-versed in the benefits of combining treatments such as meditation, sound therapy, and acupuncture with traditional Western medicine.