Guest post by Linda Grayling. Drugwatch.com: How to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor with Physical Therapy
Month in and month out, women’s magazines preach the importance of Kegel exercises. Turns out, in addition to benefiting your sex life, Kegel exercises are one of the best do-it-yourself exercise for strengthening your pelvic floor. To locate your pelvic floor muscles, engage the muscles you use when you are holding the urge to go to the bathroom. Work on lifting these muscles internally and upward.
Your pelvic floor supports your pelvic organs, including the bladder, rectum, uterus and vagina. Having a strong pelvic floor is important since these are the muscles that support the weight of the baby during pregnancy. These same muscles can shorten labor and make delivery easier—and doesn’t everyone want that?
Problems You Don’t Want
Pelvic floor disorders happen when there is weakness in the pelvic floor, typically caused by pregnancy and childbirth. Being overweight or obese, chronic cough, heavy lifting, and high-impact activities can also increase your risk of these disorders.
Stress urinary incontinence, or SUI, happens when the pelvic floor muscles are no longer strong enough to hold back the flow of urine when the bladder is under pressure. Do you pee a little bit when you laugh, cough, sneeze or exercise? That’s the result of a weakened pelvic floor, and is something that 25 percent of women will experience at some point in their lives. A weakened pelvic floor can also cause back pain, constipation and sexual problems like dulled sensitivity or pain during intercourse.
Roughly 50 percent of all women who have given birth will experience another pelvic floor disorder known as pelvic organ prolapse. The pelvic floor muscles are not strong enough to support the pelvic organs—instead, these organs fall out of the proper position, usually falling against vaginal walls or into the vaginal canal.
In extreme cases, organs can even protrude via the vagina. Many times surgery is performed to correct moderate to severe cases of prolapse, and transvaginal mesh may be used. Transvaginal mesh is known to cause serious problems in some women, including mesh erosion, organ perforation, mesh shrinkage and infection.
Physical Therapy Can Help
Physical therapists who specialize in pelvic health can offer personalized treatment for prolapse. During physical therapy, targeted pelvic floor exercise, or pelvic floor muscle training, is used to strengthen the pelvic floor. Your physical therapist will guide you in customized exercises and positions to build and maintain pelvic muscle strength.
Personalized treatments vary, but can include resistance exercises using specialized weights and biofeedback to observe muscle function. If nerve damage is an issue, electrical muscle stimulation is sometimes used to increase pelvic muscle strength and control.
Your physical therapist may also incorporate pelvic massage or Pilates. Certain types of massage have been used effectively to realign pelvic organs, increase healing rates after childbirth, and restore pelvic floor strength.
Pilates is focused on core strength, which includes pelvic strength. In Pilates, pelvic strength is a focus not just in specific exercises but during the entire practice.
Because pregnancy and childbirth are the biggest risk factors for pelvic floor disorders, strengthening the pelvic floor during pregnancy as well as after giving birth is especially important. However, it is never too late for women to start strengthening their pelvic floor—it can even reverse symptoms of pelvic floor disorders.
Linda Grayling writes for Drugwatch.com. Linda has a number of professional interests, including keeping up with the latest developments in the medical field. Join the Drugwatch community on our Facebook page to find out more.