The pelvic floor is a vital, yet often ignored part of the female body – getting to know yours and learning how you can strengthen it, is as important as exercising the rest of your body.
Today, we hear some pelvic floor facts from physiotherapist Michelle Lyons and trainer Jenny Burrell of Holistic Core Restore.
What is the pelvic floor?
It's a complex and hard-working part of a woman’s body, says Michelle – it’s a wide hammock of muscles that sits between the tailbone and pubic bone and supports the uterus, bladder and bowel. A strong pelvic floor will lift and hold your core, determine how long you can hold a wee for and even improve your sex life.
Have I got a pelvic floor problem?
Signs that commonly indicate a problem can include:
- Accidentally wetting yourself when laughing, exercising, coughing or sneezing
- Always needing to go to the toilet, or having to go in a hurry
- Having difficulty emptying your bladder or bowel
- Accidentally passing wind
- Having prolapse – in women this can be felt as heaviness, dragging or dropping low down in the pelvis/vagina, a bulge in the vagina might also be felt
- Painful sex
What weakens the pelvic floor?
Pregnancy and childbirth, heavy lifting, obesity and intense impact sports can all weaken the muscles.
Does this cause incontinence?
A weak pelvic floor can be the reason for bladder weakness and urinary accidents says Michelle. “Incontinence is one of main reasons women end up in care homes. When you’ve lost control of your bladder or bowel, you can lose a huge part of your life and your confidence. By exercising your pelvic floor correctly now, you are starting good habits for the rest of your life, and limiting the chances of incontinence as you get older,” she says.
Does squeezing help?
Michelle says that a few squeezes now and then is not going to make the blindest bit of difference. She says: “Women need proper training in how to find their pelvic floor, and then detailed advice on how to strengthen it,” she says. “We have research showing that a significant number of women do their exercises incorrectly when depending on a leaflet for instruction – the gold standard is to go and see a women’s health physio who can provide an individualised programme that will work for you,” Michelle adds. By improving your pelvic floor muscles, way before you have children, you’ll be helping your body to support a pregnancy and assist with the birth process too.
So, what’s the best way to strengthen my muscles?
Jenny says the first step to strengthening the area is to find your pelvic floor muscles: “At the front, imagine you need to stop the flow of urine. Find those muscles, tense and lift them. For the back pelvic floor muscles, imagine you need to not pass gas. Find those muscles, tense and lift them. Now, draw the front muscles and back muscles towards each other and lift the whole pelvic floor. Once you've got that, tie it in with your breath because that's essential. Inhale to prepare, and as you exhale, draw the front muscles and back muscles towards each other and lift the whole pelvic floor. Voila, you've now performed a 21st century kegel,” she says.