The pelvic floor is a ‘sling’ of muscles, a bit like a small muscle hammock that runs between the pubic bone in the front, and the tailbone at the back.
A woman’s pelvic floor muscles support her uterus, bladder, and bowel (colon). The urine tube (urethra), the vagina, and the anus all pass through the pelvic floor muscles.
What does the pelvic floor do for you?
improve bladder and bowel control
reduce the risk of prolapse
improve recovery from childbirth and gynecological surgery
increase sexual sensation and orgasmic potential
and increase social confidence and quality of life.
Let’s break it down further . . .
5 Important Functions of the Pelvic Floor Muscles
Sphincteric: The muscles of the pelvic floor wrap around and control the opening of your bladder and rectum. When there is an increase in abdominal pressure (for example when you cough, sneeze, laugh or jump), these muscles contract around your urethra and anus to prevent leakage. Equally as important, these muscles have to relax and lengthen to allow us to urinate or have bowel movements easily.
Support: The pelvic floor muscles act as a basket to support our pelvic organs (bladder, rectum and uterus) against gravity and increases in abdominal pressure. With excess strain on the pelvic floor (especially during pregnancy), or with weakening of the pelvic floor (with age or hormonal changes), the pelvic organs can start to protrude near the vaginal opening. This is referred to as prolapse. During pregnancy, the pelvic floor supports the extra weight of the baby, and then it helps in pushing the baby through the vagina during childbirth.
Stability: Because of their attachments to the pelvis and hips, the pelvic floor muscles are an important part of the “core”. These muscles help other abdominal, hip and back muscles to control movement of the sacroiliac and hip joints. If you are trying to strengthen your core, your pelvic floor should be a part of your training program.
Sexual: When you orgasm, the pelvic floor muscles contract rhythmically. Sufficient strength of the pelvic floor muscles is necessary for orgasm, and excessive tension or sensitivity of the pelvic floor can also contribute to pain during or after intercourse.
Sump-pump: Just like the calf muscles in your leg act to pump blood and lymphatic fluid back up towards your heart, the pelvic floor muscles act as a blood/lymph pump for the pelvis. A loss of this action can contribute to swelling or pelvic congestion.
But how do you know if you’re engaging your pelvic floor?
Raise your hand if you ever struggled knowing you were doing your Kegel’s correctly.
A good starting point is to lie down or to sit in a supported position (on your exercise or birthing ball). Now, imagine you are squeezing your muscles to stop the flow of urine and the passing of wind. Focus on drawing these muscles inwardly tightly. This gives you an idea of the location and function of the pelvic floor muscles.
You can also quickly identify the pelvic floor muscles by trying to stop the flow of urine while emptying your bladder. If you can do it for a second or two, you are using the correct muscles. (Do not do this routinely! It can cause problems with emptying your bladder completely. It’s purely for identifying the muscles you’ll need to exercise.)
Pelvic floor problems can occur when the pelvic floor muscles are stretched, weakened or too tight.
This can happen with weight gain, pregnancy, birth trauma, aging, sexual abuse. So while I talk about the pelvic floor A LOT and pelvic floor exercises are key to recovery from pregnancy and postpartum, Kegel’s aren’t for everyone. If you have pain inserting a tampon or pain with sex, Kegels could be the worst possible thing you do. If you have concerns regarding your pelvic floor, please see your OBGYN or pelvic floor physical therapist.
At Sky Women’s Health, we love working closely with pelvic floor physical therapist. It is such a great compliment to neuromusculoskeletal medicine.