Motherhood brings with it countless joys — accompanied by certain physical challenges.
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction (PFD) falls into this latter category. It is important to know that you are not alone and that there are daily steps you can take to maintain a strong pelvic floor.
Did you know?
- Pelvic Floor Dysfunction affects 4.8 million Australians, 80 percent of whom are women.
- One in three women who have had a baby will experience a problem with incontinence.
About your pelvic floor
In both women and men, the pelvic floor is made up of three primary muscles at the bottom of the torso that sling like a hammock from the pubic bone (at the front of the pelvis) to the coccyx (at the tailbone), along with the connective tissue that binds those muscles together.
This muscular sling (or floor) performs three main functions:
- Controls the bladder and colon.
- Supports and cushions the urogenital organs in the pelvis and lower abdomen.
- Assists with sexual arousal and performance.
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
When the pelvic floor muscles are weakened or stretched, any or all of the three functions listed above will be compromised to some degree. This can lead to incontinence, pelvic pain and other conditions like core muscle weakness, poor posture, interstitial cystitis, sacroiliac joint dysfunction, constipation, irregular bowel function and stress incontinence.
Furthermore, when the muscles of the pelvic floor are too weak, to provide the necessary support to the organs such as bladder, rectum, bowel and the uterus in women, these organs may drop, alter position or prolapse.
This physical shift, in either gender, may cause pain, a dragging sensation or pressure in the pelvic area or lower back.
Women in particular might also experience the symptoms of a heavy sensation or lump in the vagina, recurring urinary infections and either pain or lack of sensation during intercourse.
Needless to say Pelvic Floor Dysfunction can have a dramatic impact on your health, activity levels, self-esteem and overall sense of wellbeing.
The impact of pregnancy and childbirth
There are various causes for Pelvic Floor Dysfunction such as impact trauma, chronic coughing, certain sporting activities and medications. More specifically associated to pregnancy, the following can signal the beginning of PFD.
- Pre-natal stage, the increasing weight of the fetus puts excess stress on the pelvic floor muscles, as they have more weight to support and hold up, which can damage and weaken them over time.
- Vaginal childbirth puts extensive pressure on the pelvic floor as the baby is pushed through the pelvis. The extreme force that is required for childbirth can stretch, weaken or tear the pelvic floor muscles and cause damage to the nerves.
- Oestrogen deficiency, which commonly occurs when breastfeeding and during menopause, leads to thinning and weakening of pelvic muscles.
Treatment and prevention
To prevent or minimise Pelvic Floor Dysfunction, during pregnancy and childbirth, you can take daily steps to maintain a strong pelvic floor, rather than wait until after the damage is done.
Certain exercise can help strengthen pelvic floor muscles and lead to better pelvic floor control.
A common pelvic floor exercise involves intentionally stopping your urine flow midstream to gradually build bladder control. Incorporating daily squats, lunges and kegel exercises can also help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
Your physiotherapist can act as your health partner and will be able to guide you on how to do these exercises correctly for optimum benefit.
They can also provide advice on diet and supplements that can provide essential relief if you are already suffering from PFD.
For an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, your physio may suggest a careful pelvic assessment through an internal examination and/or real-time ultrasound (non-invasive procedure).
Regardless of your stage in the cycle of life, you can easily take care of your pelvic floor. Give your body the support it needs to avoid potentially embarrassing situations and painful moments.
Move with confidence. And most importantly, don’t suffer in silence.
For more information on women’s health physiotherapy, click here.