What are the Pelvic Floor Muscles?
The floor of the pelvis is made up of layers of muscle and other tissue. They stretch like a hammock from the tail bone at the back to the pubic bone in the front. A woman’s pelvic floor supports the bladder, the womb (uterus) and the bowel. The urethra (front passage), the vagina (birth canal) and the rectum (back passage) pass between the pelvic muscles. The pelvic floor muscle has an important role in bladder and bowel control and sexual sensation.
We have control over the pelvic muscles. Like other muscles in the body, exercise strengthens them when they are weak.
Why do the Pelvic Floor Muscles weaken?
The pelvic floor muscles can be weakened by:
- Pregnancy and child birth
- Continual straining to empty your bowels. (constipation)
- Persistent heavy lifting.
- Being over weight.
- Lack of general fitness
- A chronic cough (ie. Smokers cough or chronic bronchitis)
- Changes in hormone levels at menopause
The benefits of the Pelvic Floor Exercises
It is important for women of all ages to maintain pelvic floor muscle strength.
Women with stress incontinence, that is, those who regularly lose urine when coughing, sneezing or exercising should learn these exercises.
For pregnant women, this helps the body to cope with the increasing weight of the baby. Healthy, fit muscles pre-natally will recover more fully after child birth.
As women grow older it is important to keep the pelvic floor muscles strong because at menopause the muscles may change and weaken. A pelvic floor exercise routine helps minimise the effects of menopause on the support and bladder control.
Pelvic floor exercises may be also useful in conjunction with a bladder training program.
How to Contract the Pelvic Floor Muscles
The first thing to do is to correctly identify the muscles that need to be exercised.
- Sit or lie comfortably with the muscles of your thighs, buttocks and abdomen relaxed.
- Tighten the ring of muscles around the back passage as if you are trying to control diarrhoea or wind. Relax it. Practice movement several times until you sure you are exercising the correct muscles. Try not to squeeze your buttocks.
- When you are passing urine try to stop the flow midstream, then restart it. Only do this to learn which muscles are the correct ones to use and then do it once a week to check your progress.
- If you feel comfortable, another way to check that you are using the correct muscles is to place one or two fingers in your vagina then squeeze the pelvic floor muscles. Squeezing the muscle will grip your fingers. If the muscles are very weak you may not feel much of a grip until they improve with exercise. Strong muscles will produce a squeezing and drawing up effect.
Doing pelvic floor exercises
Now that you can feel the muscle working, exercise it by:
- Tightening and drawing in around the rectum, vagina and the urethra all at once. Lift it UP inside. Try and hold this contraction as you count to five then release and relax. You should have a definite feeling of “letting go”
- Repeat (“squeeze and lift”) and relax. It is important to rest for about 10 Seconds in between each contraction. If you find it easy to hold for a count of five, try it for longer-up to ten seconds.
- Repeat this as many times as you are able until you have done 8-10 squeezes.
- Now do five to ten short, fast, but strong contractions.
- Do this exercise routine 4-5 time a day.
While doing the exercise:
DO NOT hold your breath.
DO NOT push down instead of squeezing and lifting up.
DO NOT tighten your tummy, buttocks or thighs.
Making the exercise part of your daily routine
Once you have learnt how to do these exercises they can be done when you are sitting, standing, lying or during everyday activities. It might be helpful to have at least five regular times during the day for doing the exercise. Here are some suggestions:
- Brushing your teeth
- After urinating
- Watching TV
- Stopped at the traffic lights in your car
Other things to do to help your pelvic floor muscles
- Share heavy lifting
- Avoid constipation and prevent any straining
- Seek medical advice for hay fever, asthma and bronchitis to reduce sneezing
- Keep your weight within the right range for your height and age.
If you find it difficult to do exercise or you feel that you are not improving, don’t give up. At Beechboro Physiotherapy our physiotherapists have specific postgraduate training in the area of Continence and Women’s Health and can assist you. We are experienced in treating a wide range of women’s health-related conditions. Please call 9377 2522 for more information.