A lot of time during my classes, on my facebook page and in blogs on this website I talk about the pelvic floor and pelvic floor safe exercise. But what does all that mean? And how do you know whether you are at risk of problems/or already having problems?
What is the pelvic floor?
It is simply a group of muscles and connective tissue that forms the floor of your pelvis - a supportive hammock that supports your pelvic organs (bladder, bowel, and if females, the uterus), assists to maintain continence, contributes to sexual function/sensation, and contribute to supporting your spine, pelvis & hips.
Sounds like they are important, right? They are but they don't do it alone.
The pelvic floor does not work in isolation in these roles, working together with muscles in your abdomen, spine, and hips for example, as well as the diaphragm. It is the balance between these muscles and how they are controlled that is important. You might have heard this integrated muscle function termed your 'core', 'core muscles', 'core stability' or 'core strength'.
Who is at risk of pelvic floor problems?
Pelvic floor problems are not limited to women, however, key physiological events for women such as pregnancy, childbirth and menopause can contribute to pelvic floor problems. So given that 99.9% of women accessing this website are pregnant or recently had a baby, this means you are at risk of developing pelvic floor problems during this period. This is why it is so important that we maintain exercise for health & fitness but do it in a graded pelvic floor & abdominal muscle safe way. So make sure that the fitness professionals looking after you at this time know about pelvic floor safe exercise.
Did you also know that elite athletes or people who undertake a lot of high-impact (running/jumping etc.) or high resistance (lift heavy weights/exercise with heavy resistance) exercises can also be at risk?
What about people who experience a lot of constipation or need to strain when they go to the toilet? Or people who have had back pain or an injury to their pelvis? People who cough or sneeze a lot (asthma/hayfever)? And people who are overweight?
Yes, they are all at risk.
What are the signs or symptoms of pelvic floor problems?
The obvious one is having continence problems - leaking urine, faeces or even wind accidently. This could be in response to activities such as coughing/sneezing/jumping/ laughing etc. The simple message here is that any unexpected leakage, no matter how large or small, is a continence problem and should be addressed.
Did you also know that going to the toilet to wee frequently (greater than 7 times a day with only small amounts), urgently needing to go (not being able to hold on/rushing to go), and difficulty using your bladder or bowels (straining to go) can also be a sign of problems?
Pain in the pelvic region and painful sex can also be signs of a pelvic floor problem.
Prolapse (sagging/bulge of pelvic organs) also represent a pelvic floor problem. A prolapse in women might present has heaviness, dragging or bulging in the vagina, back/pelvic pain or even as difficulty using your bladder or bowel.
The Continence Foundation of Australia has an excellent website called Pelvic Floor First (www.pelvicfloorfirst.com.au) that has a range of resources and information about the Pelvic floor and looking after it.
If you are concerned about your pelvic floor then it is wise to talk to your doctor, or a continence & women's health physiotherapist. Many pelvic floor problems and their symptoms can be treated, and often cured.
Also, if you are about to embark on a new exercise program, why not complete the pelvic floor screening tool with your fitness professional to ensure that your exercise program is pelvic floor safe and matched to your level.