Pelvic floor functionality is something many women don’t think about – but perhaps more women should.
One in three women will experience urinary leakage or incontinence at some point in their lifetime. We’ll call that the bad news. The good news is that 80 per cent of pelvic floor dysfunction cases can be significantly improved through physiotherapy.
Most people hear “pelvic floor physiotherapy” and automatically assume it refers to Kegels –popular strengthening exercises for the pelvic floor muscles. The truth, however, is that pelvic floor physiotherapy encompasses so much more than just Kegels. In addition to evaluating and establishing the correct method for performing Kegels, pelvic floor physiotherapy is also designed to help treat many serious symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction.
About pelvic floor dysfunction
The pelvic floor is composed of soft tissue, including muscles, ligaments, tendons and nerves. These structures play a critical role in sustaining proper functionality in terms of stability, organ support, continence, breathing and sexual function. Any type of irritation to the pelvic floor can impede these roles.
Here are three other facts about pelvic floor dysfunction:
- Almost 80 per cent of lower back pain is directly related to pelvic floor dysfunction
- At least 30 per cent of women attempting Kegel exercises are performing them incorrectly
- Up to 50 per cent of women will experience a minor prolapse (a condition where the walls of the vagina push outward) after a vaginal delivery
To Kegel or not to Kegel?
Kegel exercises are not for everyone. Unfortunately, as stated above, many who do Kegels often aren’t performing them properly.
Unlike muscles on the outside of your body, you cannot visibly evaluate your pelvic floor muscles. That means you can’t determine on your own whether your pelvic muscles are overdeveloped and overactive or underdeveloped and underactive. Both scenarios can ultimately lead to pelvic floor dysfunction, and you may not realize you have a problem until other symptoms are present.
Symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction:
- Unexplained lower back pain
- Unexplained pain in the regions of your pelvis, hips or genitals
- Frequent urination, incontinence or incomplete bladder emptying
- Pain during, or after, intercourse
- Constipation or straining bowel movements
Pelvic floor physiotherapy
Pelvic floor physiotherapy assesses the state of your pelvic muscles and determines whether you are hypotonic or hypertonic. Hypotonic muscles are weak, demonstrate decreased tension and can contribute to incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. Hypertonic muscles are overactive, tense and are responsible for contributing to incontinence, pelvic pain, constipation and difficulties with sexual intercourse.
Your personal lifestyle, physical activity level and stress level can each play a role in the development of pelvic floor muscle dysfunction. However, the singular most common cause is natal-related – affecting women during pregnancy, labour and delivery. It’s important to note that simply being pregnant actually increases the risk of pelvic floor dysfunction, and that women who deliver by c-section can also develop pelvic floor problems.
If you are pregnant, your Copeman Healthcare physiotherapist or kinesiologist can teach you some safe, preventative pelvic floor exercises, as well as introduce you to effective techniques for potentially making your delivery easier. If you have recently given birth, scheduling a pelvic floor physiotherapy exam is recommended to ensure your muscles and ligaments have healed properly.
The final verdict
So what’s the answer to the question of “to Kegel, or not to Kegel?” It all depends on your personal circumstances.
Just like all muscles in the body, pelvic floor muscles require appropriate exercise. Physiotherapist’s can provide you with an exercise prescription that’s designed to suit your unique needs and goals. Of course, the best time to see your pelvic floor physiotherapist is actually before symptoms are present. Prevention is key!