So often I start a consultation on pelvic floor health and improvement by asking my client “what do you understand about your pelvic floor, where it is and what it does?” More times than not the reply is “not very much at all, but I know it’s not good and I don’t want to pee my pants!”
So lets get down to the nitty gritty – useful info!
If you took a birds eye view of inside your pelvis, your pelvic floor muscle would look like a trampoline stretching from front to back and side to side. Your ‘core unit’ comprises your diagphram, which is the ‘roof’, your transverse abdominis (core), which are the ‘walls’ and the pelvic floor which is the ‘floor’. These muscles all work together to give you good posture, support your body during movement, protect your back, flatten your abdominals and safeguard against incontinence.
Women hear a lot about their pelvic floor during pregnancy as the uterus and growing baby sit in it – and put pressure on it. Obviously the birth canal passes through the pelvic floor. It is therefore under the most pressure during birth . Hence the much needed focus on it’s repair and recovery in early motherhood.
However, your pelvic floor is also affected by age and genetics. As elastin declines with age, so does the efficiency of your pelvic floor. If your mother and grandmother have problems with their pelvic floor, you may be more prone to weakness of this muscle too.
All women need to exercise their pelvic floor throughout their life.
Recent studies conducted by the Continence Foundation of Australia revealed some disturbing facts.
One, many women reported their biggest barrier to exercise, particularly strenuous exercise, to be breast size and fear of their pelvic floor giving way and them wetting themselves. They were also understandably reluctant to tell the instructor or coach, so just didn’t go to sessions. As we struggle with an increasing obesity and related diseases epidemic, it is obvious that we can’t have huge numbers of women avoiding exercise for this reason – especially when there is help available.
Two and perhaps more disturbingly, it was found that of the women who were exercising their pelvic floor muscles, 70% were unknowingly doing it wrong – and in a way that was not just ineffectual, but harmful.
Over the last 5 years the Fitness Industry and the Continence Foundation of Australia have been working together to try and overcome these two problems. So, it is now possible to join classes that will discreetly take account of pelvic floor issues and avoid movements that exacerbate the problem. There are also many personal trainers who have attended courses to educate themselves how best to look after female clients without causing unwanted pelvic floor stress. If you have more serious problems there are specialist physiotherapists who use ultrasound machines to help you locate your pelvic floor muscles and contract them in the correct way to make it easier to carry this over into daily life – and exercise.
The important message is do not suffer. Most pelvic floor problems can be solved and at the very least improved. And do not be still. There are many forms of exercise you can do safely without causing more damage.