Most women know that having a strong pelvic floor is important, however many have poor awareness of these muscles and don’t prioritise them. As a result they can let us down.
It is essential to understand the importance of the pelvic floor muscles, and to make sure you are exercising them correctly throughout the stages of your life, especially after pregnancy. As many as 30% of women are bearing down instead of lifting (or sucking up inside) their pelvic floor muscles which support and lift the urethra up to the pubic bone.
If you’re not regularly exercising and strengthening your these muscles, they may become weakened. The physical symptoms associated with a weak pelvic floor muscles are not pleasant. They can include one, or all, of the following:
- Urinary leakage (incontinence) with or without urinary urgency
- Vaginal dragging or aching as the organs lean on and into (sometimes out of) the vagina (prolapse)
- Difficulty with urine flow
- Problems emptying the bowel fully
- Poor flatulence control
- Reduced sexual response
- Vaginal laxity.
These physical symptoms can lead to a reduction in confidence to exercise and to play sport. Emotional responses will also often develop, including poor self-esteem and depression.
Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles
As a voluntary muscle, it can be strengthened and thickened with exercise, and thinned and weakened by disuse or injury. Pelvic floor physiotherapists are the people to see if you don’t know your pelvic floor, or are unsure if you are contracting your pelvic floor muscles correctly. Also known as Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapists, they have undergone extensive education and training in assessment and training methods.
Pelvic floor exercise (otherwise known as kegal exercise) programs should be set individually, starting with the number of repetitions and the endurance (hold time) that an individual can do on initial assessment. Progression may aim for 3 sessions of pelvic floor exercises per day, with 6 to 8 reps, for 6 to 8 second holds, but will depend on the person’s ability, and the particular dysfunction.
Generally, women with pelvic floor muscle dysfunction will be asked to commit to a program of 3 to 6 months of intensive exercise, and then will be given a maintenance program with reviews at longer intervals, to ensure that the technique remains correct.
Strength and timing of muscle contraction are important in controlling and preventing incontinence (when you leak urine) and prolapse (when one or more of the pelvic floor organs drop down into the vagina); which can occur when the muscles that hold your pelvic organs in place get weak or stretched from childbirth or surgery. This strength and timing of muscle contraction has been labelled “the Knack”, bringing in the muscle just before increases in intra-abdominal pressure occur, to support and protect against prolapse and incontinence.
Have you experienced a weak pelvic floor or committed to a kegal exercise program? Share your experience and tips in the comment section below to help other women on their journey to better health.
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