What is the pelvic floor?
The floor of the pelvis is made up of layers of muscle and other tissue. These muscles stretch like a hammock from the tailbone at the back, to the pubic bone in the front. A woman’s pelvic floor muscles support her bladder, womb (uterus) and bowel (colon). The urine tube (front passage), the vagina and the back passage all pass through the pelvic floor muscles.
When the pelvic floor is strong, it supports the pelvic organs to prevent problems such as:
- Incontinence (the involuntary loss of urine or faeces) – one in three Australian women suffer from urinary incontinence.
- Prolapse (lack of support) of the bladder, uterus and bowel.
What causes poor pelvic floor muscles?
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Continual straining to empty your bowels (constipation)
- Persistent heavy lifting
- A chronic cough (such as smoker’s cough or chronic bronchitis and asthma)
- Being overweight
- Changes in hormone levels at menopause
- Lack of general fitness
How can physiotherapy help?
Women of all ages need to have strong pelvic floor muscles. Pelvic floor exercises may improve the tone and function of the pelvic floor muscles, which is of particular benefit for women who suffer from urinary incontinence. In addition to preventing or diminishing leakage it may improve vaginal laxity, and consequent diminished sexual sensation.
As women grow older it is important to keep the pelvic floor muscles strong because at menopause the muscles change and may weaken. A pelvic floor exercise routine helps to minimise the effects of menopause on pelvic support and bladder control.
The muscles of your pelvic floor are critical for optimal function for your lower back, pelvis, uterus and bladder. Yet 50% of women do not know how to contract these muscles when given either a verbal or written instruction. Therefore individual assessment and instruction is imperative.
A physiotherapist can teach you about modifying your daily activities to complement a pelvic floor exercise program, and how to strengthen other core stabilisers such as abdominal muscles.