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What are the pelvic floor muscles and why do we need to keep them healthy?

Published Dec 15th, 2021 by

Tafy Seade

Unfortunately, the pelvic floor muscles are not commonly thought of until something is wrong down below. Here, Tafy Seade, a Women's Health Physio, sheds some light on what the pelvic floor muscles are and why we need to keep them healthy - especially after childbirth.

What are the pelvic floor muscles and why do we need to keep them healthy?

Unfortunately, the pelvic floor muscles are not commonly thought of until something is wrong down below. Often a concern after childbirth, it is important to understand how to regain fitness without causing pelvic injuries or damage to the pelvic floor.

In this article, we will shed some light on what the pelvic floor muscles are, and why we need to keep them healthy.

What is the pelvic floor?

These are a group of muscles and ligaments that are found at the base of the pelvis, stretching like a hammock from the front of the pubic bone and attach at the coccyx (tailbone) at the back.

What do the pelvic floor muscles do?

Pelvic floor muscles have an important role and when healthy and strong they do the following:

  • Supportive role of the womb (uterus), bladder and bowel.
  • Prevent incontinence (the involuntary loss) of urine and faeces.
  • They play a role in sexual function.
  • They work together with the abdominal muscles, hip and abdominal muscles to provide core stability

So, when the muscles are not working properly, this can arise in problems with their function.

Commonly seen in pregnancy and childbirth is weakness of the muscles due to the growing weight of the baby, hormonal changes and birth and delivery issues. With weakness you may notice some issues with the bladder such as incontinence or involuntary loss of urine with activities such as coughing or sneezing (also known as stress incontinence) or poor control on urge.

Bowel issues may also be a problem of control. The support mechanism of the pelvic organs (womb, bladder and bowels) can also be compromised resulting in weakness/change in the position of the organs resulting in pelvic organ prolapse.

On the other hand, these muscles may be overactive but we will only reference weakness in this article.

What can you do?

Perform a regular routine of pelvic floor exercises every day to prevent weakness and improve strength. Unfortunately, as easy as it may sound, this might be a challenge as these muscles are not in plain sight.

It is important you perform these exercises correctly that when you tighten the muscles, you should feel a sense of a closure around the openings both the front passage (around the urethra) and the anus (back passage) and then let go, again having a sense of release and letting go. You should be able to keep breathing when doing them, so it is important you pace yourself.

Research does note there is a percentage of women who perform these exercises incorrectly. An assessment by a Women’s Health Physiotherapist can help you to identify these muscles, making sure you are doing the exercises correctly and they can give you a specific exercise program specific to your concerns.

They hold specialised training in pelvic floor and are able to conduct an internal examination which is often the best way to assess your muscles. They can also advise you on daily activities and fitness as well as good bladder and bowels habits.

Apart from exercising regularly, the other consideration you will need to do is using your pelvic floor muscles during day-to-day tasks, known as the knack. This involves tightening the pelvic floor immediately and during exertion activities, for example when coughing, sneezing or lifting.

You can find out more activating your pelvic floor in this article and take a look at some actionable steps to strengthen your pelvic floor post-birth here.

Bonus Tips

  • How can you remember to do your exercises? Consider the power of association, maybe the toothbrush or a kettle can be your prompt, so that each time you spot these objects its prompts you do the exercises. DO NOT do these exercises in the toilet whilst passing urine.
  • Aim to do these exercises in different positions, for example on your hands and knees, standing or sitting.
  • To help them keep healthy and strong, avoid constipation and/or straining with bowel emptying.

Getting Help

If you require more help or you are looking for an individualised program, please reach out to a Women’s Health Physio. Click here to find one in your area.

DISCLAIMER: This is general information only. For specific advice about your healthcare needs, you should seek advice from your health professional. Inner Active Pelvic Health and Physiotherapy does not accept any responsibility for loss or damage arising from your reliance on this fact sheet instead of seeing a health professional.

Tafy Seade is the owner of Inner Active Pelvic Health Physiotherapy, a practice that solely focuses on pelvic health rehabilitation services helping to restore confidence and strength in women after pregnancy and childbirth. She plays an active role as a committee of the Australian Physiotherapy Association’s Women’s, Men’s and Pelvic Health state group. She enjoys combining education, research and practice in advancing the field of pelvic health.

Tafy partners with Anita of Fit For 2 in South Morang, Victoria. To find out more about Anita and get in touch, click here.

Article References:

  • Bø K. Pelvic floor muscle strength and response to pelvic floor muscle training for stress urinary incontinence. Neurourol Urodyn . 2003;22:6554–6558
  • Bø K, Sherburn M. Evaluation of female pelvic-floor muscle function and strength. Phys Ther . 2005;85:269–282
  • Wesnes SL, Hunskaar S, Bo K & Rortveit G 2009 The effect of urinary incontinence status during pregnancy and delivery mode on incontinence post- partum. A cohort study. BJOG 116:700-707
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