I’ve watched otherwise very capable and motivated women give up on healthy movement because of problems they feel are unique to them – incontinence, pelvic pain and other women’s health issues. If you’ve ever experienced those “uh oh” moments of leaking after a cough, sneeze, laugh, or jump, you might have a treatable condition. You shouldn’t have to live with the discomfort and embarrassment of incontinence or the limitations of compromised physical activity. And, in spite of what others might tell you, this problem is not meant to be a normal part of womanhood.
Incontinence is one of the biggest issues facing the nation, affecting one in four Australians over the age of 15 years and coming with a community price tag of billions of dollars annually. It is commonly accepted now that one in three women, who have ever had a baby, will experience a problem with incontinence, which typically results from weakened, stretched, torn, or other dysfunctions of the muscles in the pelvic floor. Pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) affects 4.8 million Australians, 80 percent of whom are women.
Here are three things every lady should know about their pelvic floor:
1. We all have one – even men!
The pelvic floor is made up of three primary muscles and is standard issue when it comes to our human anatomy. Without it, there wouldn’t be anything to undergird our bladder and other pelvic organs. It would be a little bit like wearing underpants without the crutch!
This muscular sling (or floor) performs three main functions:
- Controls the bladder and colon.
- Supports and cushions the urogenital organs in the pelvis and lower abdomen.
- Assists with sexual arousal and performance.
2. Weak muscles cause leakage.
There are lots of different causes for PFD (pelvic floor dysfunction), including vaginal childbirth, enlarged prostate glands, estrogen deficiency, impact trauma, pelvic misalignment, obesity, and even chronic coughing or certain sporting activities (e.g. gymnastics or running).
Even mildly dysfunctional pelvic floors cause stress, urge or overflow incontinence. The great news is, given it’s a muscular condition, it can often be treated.
3. The right exercise helps.
Almost always a very deliberate routine of exercises can be prescribed by your Back In Motion physiotherapist to recondition your pelvic floor muscles. This is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. As with all exercise, the dosage, frequency, intensity, duration and rest periods all need to be carefully considered to avoid over-training, fatigue and further dysfunction. In most cases, surgical intervention is not required, and you can get back to health with simple, pain-free changes in your life.
A good start to strengthening your pelvic floor muscles is the simple Kegel exercise. When you’re on the toilet, intentionally stop your urine flow while you are midstream. Hold the flow for five to ten seconds before allowing it to resume. This is a great way to test that you are doing the pelvic floor exercise correctly. Once you are familiar with this type of contraction, it’s best not to keep practising midstream holds when you go to the toilet, as it may lead to urine retention issues. However, you can repeat the activity three times a day, with five to ten muscle clenches, in just about any other situation. If you do this, it is very likely you will make early inroads to better continence and pelvic floor control.
The continued practice of contracting and relaxing the right muscles gradually builds pelvic floor strength, just like lifting weighted dumbbells develops more toned and stronger shoulders. And the best part is that you can do it anywhere — whilst sitting at your desk, watching television, or driving your car — without anyone seeing you ‘work-out’.
Please remember that PFD is not for women only, although it certainly impacts them more frequently. Regardless of your gender or your stage in the cycle of life, you can easily take care of your pelvic floor. Give your body the support it needs to avoid potentially embarrassing situations and painful moments. Move with confidence. And most importantly, don’t suffer in silence.
About Jason T Smith
Jason T Smith is an award-winning physiotherapist who founded the Back In Motion Health Group – Australia and New Zealand’s largest allied health network. He is the author of international bestseller Get Yourself Back In Motion – a physiotherapists secrets to pain relief and optimal health. He is also the Chair of the SOS Health Foundation, improving the health of disadvantaged indigenous communities around Australia.