Kegel exercises and pelvic floor exercises to keep your pelvic floor healthy
Tue,Jun 02, 2015 at 03:16PM by Kirsten Wilkes
When we think of core strength, what immediately comes to mind is our abdominal muscles. However, our core is much more complex. There is no standardised definition of core strength, however, the core muscles can be thought of as those that help us maintain our posture, which in effect decreases (by evenly distributing), load on our joints. Some of the most important core muscles are: the lumbar multifidus, the diaphragm, the transversus abdominus and our pelvic floor. Now we could talk all day (or for that matter for several days) about the importance of all of these muscles in literally everything we do, but today I’d like to focus on the one that usually gets the least attention, and that is our pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor is the band of muscles that run between the pubic bone and the tailbone in both men and women. Some of the many important functions of the pelvic floor include: supporting the pelvic organs, control of the bowel and bladder and sexual function.
Our pelvic floor is not usually talked about, or for that matter thought about, that is until something goes awry. Most often pelvic floor problems occur pre or post partum, but what most people don’t know is that they can occur in ANY stage of life, in both women and men.
Symptoms of a dysfunctional pelvic floor include (but are not limited to): incontinence, difficulties voiding, bladder or bowel urgency, pelvic pain, or pain with intercourse.
It is a common belief that these symptoms are a result of weakness in the pelvic floor muscles, and many people are prescribed pelvic floor exercises or Kegel exercises as a treatment to strengthen their pelvic floor. What many people don’t know is that symptoms of pelvic floor problems such as incontinence or pelvic pain can come from both weak and hypertonic (overactive and shortened) pelvic floor muscles. Therefore, Kegel exercises or pelvic floor exercises should not be prescribed to everyone. However note that pelvic floor exercises and Kegel exercises can be beneficial for men as well as women. You should consult a physiotherapist or other specialist if you have symptoms or concerns.
What are some easy ways to keep your pelvic floor healthy?
1. Decrease your time spent sitting: you may have heard this before, but “sitting is the new smoking” and a sedentary lifestyle can result in a variety of health problems. For the pelvic floor, sitting (especially with poor posture) can lead to a shortened and weak pelvic floor. How? Let’s think about how we often sit on a couch – our back is relaxed and flexed and we are sitting right on our tailbone. Now, if our pelvic floor runs from our pubic bone to our tailbone it is thus sitting in a shortened position. Now think about how many hours a day you spend sitting in this position? Our muscles (and bones for that matter) respond to the stresses that we put on them, thus if our muscles are not stretched and used throughout the day, they shorten. If you have been reading our other blog posts then you will know that if muscles are too short, or too long then they don’t work properly. Thus sitting on your tailbone = shortened pelvic floor = dysfunctional pelvic floor.
So what can you do? The easy answer is to decrease your sitting time, however for many of us, this is just not possible. If you do have to sit, sit properly! Sit on your sitz bones and not on your tailbone. Sitting with proper posture (and lumbar support), helps to keep the alignment in the pelvis and spine and keeps the pelvic floor in a (relatively) lengthened position.
2. Learn how to squat: most of us don’t know how to squat properly. Or maybe it’s just that we don’t need to? With chairs, cars and toilets all conveniently placed so that our hips never come below our knees, we never get into this functional position that benefits not only our pelvic floor, but also our hips and our lower back. Squatting not only allows the pelvic floor to lengthen, but puts a natural stress on the pelvic floor. PLUS, this position makes it easier to void with less pushing and straining (which by the way puts a negative strain on the pelvic floor too!).
What should you do? Get squatting- see Katy Bowman’s website (she is the queen of squatting!) for some tips and tricks.
3. Get moving (with the right form and in the right amounts): obesity (and sedentary lifestyles as mentioned previously) both put negative strains on the pelvic floor. However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, high impact activities such as running and heavy lifting can also put a strain on pelvic floor. This again could be a topic in itself, so in short the best thing you can do is adhere to Australia’s exercise recommendations, and if you have any symptoms of a dysfunctional pelvic floor, seek the assistance of a qualified professional, who can suggest which activities would be safest for your body.
4. Fix your posture: this isn’t the first time you’ve heard it, and it certainly won’t be the last (especially if you’re a client of Body Organics). Your posture directly affects the loads that are put on your pelvic floor. Posture varies from person to person and also changes depending in the activities you find yourself in. Once again, if your not sure if your posture is correct when you are, standing, sitting, cleaning, running or jumping; make sure you consult a professional who can make sure you are doing it right!
Leah Moroz practises physiotherapy and teaches pilates in Brisbane with Body Organics. She is a Canadian trained physiotherapist, graduating from the University of Alberta’s Masters of Science in Physiotherapy after completing her undergraduate degree in Kinesiology (Human Movement) at the University of Alberta.