The human body is a marvel of intricate systems and interconnected functions. While some parts may garner more attention than others, there are some essential structures that often go unnoticed until they start causing problems. One such hidden hero is the pelvic floor. Often overlooked, it plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health, especially for women. In this article, we will explore its function, its importance throughout a woman’s life, and why training it is vital for preventing problems later down the line.
What is the Pelvic Floor?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues that form a supportive hammock-like structure at the base of the pelvis. It functions like a trampoline, providing support to the organs in the pelvic region, including the bladder, uterus (or prostate in men), and rectum. This intricate network of muscles also plays a pivotal role in controlling bowel and bladder movements, maintaining sexual function, and ensuring overall pelvic stability.
Believe it or not, it all starts with potty training… that’s right, as early as toddlerhood you start to learn how to utilise your pelvic muscles. Clare Bourne, a leading pelvic health physiotherapist and author of Strong Foundations, Why Pelvic Health Matters says…
“In the same approach to taking care of our teeth, we brush our teeth to prevent problems, not once we have had multiple fillings, we should take care of our pelvic health with a more preventative approach. Our journey to gaining continence and learning how to control our pelvic floor begins as a child and can really shape our early pelvic health.
This journey is different for everyone, depending on how our parents support us. I like to think of it like a more gradual process of learning, in a similar way we observe our children learning to walk, rather than the pressure to ‘crack it in 3 days’.”
What is the role of the pelvic floor?
- Support: One of the primary functions is to support the pelvic organs. It prevents them from descending and causing issues like prolapse, where the organs shift from their natural positions.
- Sphincteric Function: The pelvic floor muscles help maintain continence by providing voluntary control over the bladder and rectum. These muscles allow us to start and stop urine flow and hold in gas or bowel movements.
- Sexual Function: The pelvic floor is closely linked to sexual health. It plays a role in arousal and orgasm, contributing to sexual satisfaction.
- Core Stability: These muscles are an essential part of the body’s core, working in coordination with the abdominal and back muscles to provide stability and support for various activities.
- Childbirth: During childbirth, the pelvic floor stretches and accommodates the baby’s passage through the birth canal. Maintaining pelvic floor health is crucial for a smoother childbirth and postpartum recovery.
The importance of pelvic floor health throughout life
While many people associate pelvic floor health primarily with pregnancy and ageing, it’s essential to recognize that it plays a role throughout a woman’s life. Here’s why:
- Youth and Preventive Care: Problems can begin at a young age due to factors like obesity, chronic constipation, heavy lifting, and high-impact exercises. Being proactive in strengthening these muscles early can prevent future issues.
- Pregnancy and Postpartum: Pregnancy places significant strain on the pelvic floor. Strengthening these muscles during pregnancy and rehabilitating them postpartum can aid in a quicker recovery and reduce the risk of incontinence or prolapse.
- Menopause: Hormonal changes during menopause can affect the pelvic floor, leading to problems like urinary incontinence. Strengthening these muscles can help manage and prevent these issues.
- Active Lifestyle: Women who engage in high-impact sports or heavy lifting should pay special attention to their pelvic floor. Weakness in this area can lead to stress incontinence and discomfort during physical activities.
Why is it important to train the pelvic floor?
Just like any other muscle group, pelvic muscles benefits from regular exercise and maintenance. Pelvic floor training, often referred to as Kegel exercises, can help strengthen these muscles. Here’s how to get started:
- Identify the Muscles: Begin by locating your pelvic floor muscles. The easiest way to do this is to stop the flow of urine midstream. The muscles you engage to do this are your pelvic floor muscles.
- Regular Exercises: Perform Kegel exercises regularly, squeezing and lifting these muscles for a count of 5 to 10 seconds, then relaxing for the same duration. Aim for 10-15 repetitions, 2-3 times a day.
- Variation: Incorporate different variations, like quick contractions or holding the muscles for longer periods, to target different aspects of pelvic floor strength.
- Consult a Professional: If you’re unsure about the exercises or suspect any issues with your pelvic floor, consult a healthcare provider or a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic health.
The pelvic floor is an often overlooked but incredibly important part of a woman’s body. It plays a role in supporting organs, maintaining continence, ensuring sexual function, and providing core stability. To prevent problems in the future, it’s crucial to start caring for it early in life, not just after childbirth or as you age. Regular exercises can help women maintain their health and quality of life throughout their lifetime, making it a practice that should be embraced by all.