Lately, the topic of pelvic floor health keeps popping up. I’ve recently come across articles and interviews with physical therapists about common pelvic floor issues like incontinence, dryness, prolapse and pain. They all confirm that these problems, though common, are not normal.
I listened to a podcast interview recently with Susi Hately, a yoga therapist. She discussed the importance of women, specifically those in childbearing years and beyond, to tone and maintain a strong pelvic floor. She explained that most women wait too long to address these issues.
The pelvic floor is the floor of the torso, providing the foundation for core strength. Ideally, it is like a trampoline — strong enough to support the weight of the torso, but with flexibility and give. If it is either too saggy or too tight, all the surrounding muscles can be affected, causing back pain, hip pain, knee pain, neck pain and digestive and sexual issues. For those planning to give birth, it’s obvious the strength of the pelvic floor can impact the way we push and even the baby’s position during labor.
In France, pelvic floor physical therapy is automatically a part of postpartum maternity care for every mother. But in North America, mothers have to advocate for themselves and seek out professional help and educate themselves to rebuild pelvic floor strength. Susi Hately recommends three initial steps to regaining a strong pelvic floor:
Develop an Awareness of These Muscles.
Most of us do not pay much attention to this area of our body and so before we even begin toning or strengthening it, we need to train our brains to sense when these muscles are being activated. She suggests lying on your back, then feeling for your pubic bone in the front and sit bones and coccyx in the back. Think about drawing a diamond between those three points and focus on the muscles in that area. Sitting on a heating pad may also help bring awareness to the targeted area.
If you think about how often you breathe deeply throughout the day as opposed to short shallow breathing, you can probably count the deep breaths on one hand. But the diaphragm and pelvic floor are connected and strengthen each other; if one is the floor of the torso, the other is the ceiling. If we spend much of our days slouching, we are probably not engaging our diaphragms as we should. Make a conscious effort to sit up straight and bring oxygen all the way into your abdomen. This is a simple but impactful way to start engaging the core muscles in a positive way.
See a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist.
Even if you recognize your pelvic floor could use some attention, it can be hard to know which exercises will be best. Kegels are probably the most well-known pelvic floor exercise and the case has been made recently that squats are also incredibly effective. But even if someone commits to 100 reps of each per day, that may not resolve their particular issues.
For some women the problem is not weakness, but the opposite. The muscles can be held in a constantly tense state and so they would need to be released and relaxed. Pelvic Floor Therapists can do an internal exam to determine exactly which muscles need work and how. Then they can suggest specific exercises to accomplish these goals.
Many women report full recovery with the proper therapy and exercises. There is no need to live in fear of jumping jacks and sneezes. Good help is out there, we just have to find it.