What do my pelvic floor muscles do?
The pelvic floor is the base of the group of muscles referred to as your ‘core’. These muscles work with your tummy (deep abdominal) and deep back muscles and diaphragm to stabilise and support the spine. They also assist in controlling the pressure inside your abdomen to deal with the pushing force when you lift or strain, for example when you are exercising.
Pelvic floor muscles support the bladder, bowel and uterus in women (and the bladder and bowel in men).
What causes my pelvic floor muscles to weaken?
Pelvic floor problems can occur when the pelvic floor muscles are stretched, weakened or too tight. Some people have weak pelvic floor muscles from an early age, whilst others notice problems after certain life stages such as:
· Childbirth (predominantly resulting in the delivery of a large baby or prolonged pushing during delivery)
· Being pregnant
· Being overweight
· Heavy lifting (e.g. at work or the gym)
· Chronic cough or sneezing (asthma, heavy smokers & hayfever)
· Changes in hormonal levels (menopause)
· Constipation (excessive straining to empty your bowel)
· A history of back pain
· Growing older.
How do you strengthen your pelvic floor muscles?
Your pelvic floor muscles can be consciously controlled and therefore trained. Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles will help you to support your bladder and bowel. What this does in improve your bladder and bowel control and helps reduce the possibility of accidentally leaking from your bladder and bowel. With a regular strengthening exercise program your pelvic floor muscles will become stronger. This is very important for both women and men.
· If you have mastered the art of contracting your pelvic floor muscles correctly, you can try holding the inward squeeze for longer (up to 10 seconds) before relaxing. Make sure you can breathe easily while you squeeze. If you can do this exercise, repeat it up to 10 times, but only as long as you can do it with perfect technique while breathing quietly and keeping everything above the belly button relaxed. This can be done more often during the day to improve control. If you need help identifying your pelvic floor muscles then visit the Pelvic Floor First website.
· Pilates are another great way to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles as these muscles require slow exercises as well as fast exercises. Check out the Poise website for some great pilates workout examples. (Consult your physician if you have any questions or are hesitant whether or not pilates is ok and safe for you, especially if you are pregnant).
How do I prevent damage to my pelvic floor muscles?
You need to avoid the following:
· Straining with a bowel motion
· Persistent heavy lifting
· Repetitive coughing
· Putting on too much weight.
Like all exercises, pelvic floor exercises are most effective when individually tailored and monitored. The exercises described are only a guide and may not help if done incorrectly or if the training is inappropriate.