Pelvic Floor Muscles – Where are they? What do they do?
You may have heard the pelvic floor muscles mentioned in the same sentence as having a baby or getting older. Maybe you’ve never heard of them before! What are these muscles? Where are they found? What do they do? Well, our pelvic floor physio can give you the answers!
Where do I find these muscles?
The pelvic floor muscles hide away at the base of your pelvis, and create the ‘floor’ of your abdomen – hence they’re called pelvic floor muscles! The muscles are bowl shaped and attach to the bony ring of the pelvis. They dip slightly in the middle and surround the 3 openings in women and two in men. The pelvic floor muscles are made up of a collection of 3 muscles which work together as a group.
What do the pelvic floor muscles do?
The pelvic floor muscles support the internal organs – your bladder, bowel, and in women, the uterus.
The other major function of the pelvic floor muscles is to maintain continence – that is, to make sure you don’t leak wee or poo. The muscles contract together to close the openings and curve the canals so no urine or poo can come out. If we didn’t have pelvic floor muscles, we wouldn’t be able to stop ourselves from leaking. Some people with weak pelvic floor muscles find it hard to delay going to the toilet, leak with a cough, laugh or sneeze or leak when they exercise.
Why do I need to care about these muscles?
There are 4.2 million Australian’s living in the community (over the age of 15), who have urinary incontinence (Access Economics, 2010). This equates to 37% of all Australian women and 13% of Australian men (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, 2006).
That’s a lot of people. Most likely you either experience some symptoms yourself at some point in your life or you know someone who does.
As we get older, the number of people having issues with bladder and bowel control increases. The better your pelvic floor before going through menopause or getting older, the lower the risk of having issues.
How do I know if my pelvic floor muscles are weak?
This is a commonly asked question. Some of the signs of a weak pelvic floor include leaking wee or poo, feeling a bulge or heaviness in your pelvic area or having to rush to the toilet. You may only notice some of these if you have a full bladder or have been coughing a lot. Whether you experience these symptoms often or only occasionally, they are signs that your muscles aren’t as strong as they could be.
Having an assessment from a women’s health physiotherapist is the best way to know how strong your muscles are and if you are performing your pelvic floor exercises correctly. Our physiotherapist Hayley has completed post-graduate training in pelvic floor physiotherapy, allowing her to assess how your muscles function at rest and with a muscle contraction, or if there are any other reasons as to why you might be having concerns.
Issues with pelvic floor muscles are more likely to occur in relation to:
– pregnancy and childbirth
– increasing age
– specific types of surgery such as prostatectomy (removal of all or part of the prostate) and hysterectomy (removal of all or part of the uterus and/or ovaries)
– neurological and musculoskeletal conditions such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis
– health conditions such as diabetes, stroke, heart conditions, respiratory conditions, and prostate problems, and
– some medications
(Continence Foundation of Australia)
Can anything be done to improve my pelvic floor muscle strength?
Absolutely! Depending on what the issue is for you, your women’s health physiotherapist, gynaecologist or doctor will discuss what treatment options are available for you.
For the majority of people, having a tailored exercise program for your pelvic floor muscles is essential. Additionally, making sure the exercises are performed correctly is important as up to 50% of women who learn how to do pelvic floor exercises by reading a pamphlet don’t do them correctly (Continence Foundation of Australia).
A women’s health physiotherapist can also assist with advice regarding fluid and fibre intake, activities to avoid and bladder training.
Who can help me at Malvern Physiotherapy Clinic?
Hayley Runting is our post-graduate trained Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist. She loves working with pregnant and post-natal women, those experiencing urinary or faecal incontinence, difficult or painful sex and those with chronic pelvic pain. She has spent many years working in maternity hospitals and private practice focusing on these areas. To book a 45-minute pelvic floor assessment, please contact Malvern Physiotherapy Clinic on 9078 8434 or book online at www.malvernphysio.com.au
References: Continence Foundation of Australia (www.continence.org.au)