Heather Jeffcoat, DPT
Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor to Improve Your Core
What if you can't "Just Do It?"
Nike's longstanding slogan presupposes that your pelvic floor is in full health - but what if it isn't? Pelvic floor issues can have a profound effect on your ability to enjoy sports and other activities, and even if you are able to participate, recovery times may increase and other issues such as incontinence may come into play if things are quite right "down there".
In this article we take a quick look at how to best strengthen your pelvic floor with the aim of improving not only athletic performance but overall wellbeing.
Located at the base of the pelvis, the pelvic floor is made up of a web of muscles and fascia that spans back to front and side to side, said Heather Jeffcoat, a doctor of physiotherapy who specialises in sexual dysfunction, pain and incontinence. "These muscles work together to support the pelvic organs, provide control for your sphincters to prevent leakage, help you maintain an upright posture, aid in sexual function and more", she said.
What Does the Pelvic Floor Do, Exactly?
As I mentioned in the interview, there are 14 muscles that make up the pelvic-floor hammock. These muscles' primary function is to support the pelvic organs (including the uterus, bladder, and rectum). In addition to keeping your reproductive and excretory organs in place, the pelvic floor also aids in keeping you upright, supports childbirth, and supports blood supply and lymphatic supply throughout the body.
The Common Causes and Signs of Pelvic-Floor Dysfunction
According to the article, research shows that 24 percent of women and 16 percent of men have pelvic-floor dysfunction. Unfortunately, for a range of reasons ranging from childbirth and menopause to constipation and chronic stress, many people have pelvic-floor muscles that don't operate optimally.
Hypertonic pelvic floor
Some people have pelvic-floor muscles that can contract properly, but cannot relax fully. These people cannot produce optimal muscle force to contract, usually as a result of chronic stress or frequently holding in pee. Often diagnosed as an overactive or hypertonic pelvic floor, this can lead to leakage, constipation and chronic pelvic or abdominal pain, hip pain and buttock pain.
Hypotonic pelvic floor
Other people have muscles that are consistently in a relaxed position because their pelvic-floor muscle fibre cannot contract. This is known as a hypotonic pelvic floor and causes symptoms similar to that of over-contracted muscles, such as leakage and pelvic pressure, as well as reduced vaginal sensation, and unexplained bladder, abdominal and pelvic pain.
How To Diagnose and Treat Pelvic-Floor Dysfunction
The treatment protocol is different for different pelvic-floor conditions as outlined above. If the muscles are found to be too relaxed, then doing strengthening exercises would be a part of the care plan. Meanwhile, if the muscles are found to be non-relaxing, then doing stretching exercises would be a better start to the treatment plan.
Pelvic-Floor Exercises for Pelvic-Floor Health
The article then goes into some exercises that can help strengthen your pelvic floor, including:
Kegels can help with symptoms related to a hypotonic pelvic floor as described above, but they aren't for everyone because they can worsen symptoms in people who have shortened or contracted (hypertonic) pelvic floor muscles. Doing kegels when you have an overly contracted pelvic floor would be like trying to flex your calf when you already have a cramp.
2. Side-lying Clams
Kegels may be part of a proper treatment plan for individuals with pelvic-floor weakness, but they are not a full treatment plan. They also need to be accompanied by hip- and core-strengthening moves like side-lying clams.
3. Happy Baby Stretch
This popular yoga stretch is known for its ability to open the hips—and it does this effectively. It also stretches the muscles in the pelvic floor, which can be beneficial for individuals experiencing internal tightness.
Click here for the full lowdown on the above exercises strengthen your pelvic floor in the full article at Nike's website, and click here if you're ready to take the plunge with one of our trained physical therapists.