If you exercise, you will stay in shape, and your muscles will be just fine, right? Well, that seems to be the conventional wisdom. However, sometimes due to health and natural factors, such as aging and childbirth, your muscle strength may start deteriorating. Pelvic floor dysfunction is the inability to properly relax and coordinate your pelvic floor muscles to have bowel movements. That said, are there any exercises that can help with this condition by improving the integrity of these muscles? Here’s everything you need to know about pelvic floor dysfunction exercise.
What Is Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?
This is a fairly common condition where you can’t properly relax and coordinate the muscles in your pelvic floor. As a result, this affects your ability to urinate or have any kind of bowel movement. Sometimes for women, you may experience pain during sex. However, for men, this can sometimes manifest itself as erectile dysfunction (5).
Your pelvic floor comprises muscles found at the base of the bottom of your torso. To put it in perspective, your pelvis hosts your uterus, prostate, bladder, and rectum. On the other hand, the pelvic floor is a base support structure that keeps everything where they’re supposed to be. Some of these muscles increase stability by forming a sling around your rectum (5).
In ideal situations, going to the bathroom doesn’t usually involve any difficulties. That’s because your body can tighten and relax these muscles as needed. So everything is just perfect, right?
However, things change a bit when you have pelvic floor dysfunction. More specifically, your body continually relaxes your pelvic floor muscles without relaxing them. As a result of this tension, you may start experiencing (5):
- Incomplete bowel movements
- Leaking of urine or stool (incontinence)
- Difficulties in releasing bowel movements (It is believed that almost half of people suffering from long-term constipation also have pelvic floor dysfunction.)
- Lower back pains that are not a result of any other cause
- Muscle spasms in your pelvic region
- Discomfort during sex for women
- Erectile Dysfunction for men (ED) (Simply put, ED is when men are unable to get or maintain a viable erection. As much as pelvic muscle pain or tension may be the cause, it’s now always the cause. ED is a complex condition; therefore, you should first seek the advice of a medical professional.)
- General pain and pressure in your pelvic region or rectum; usually with or without any bowel movements
- Frequently having the urge to use the bathroom (Sometimes you may feel like you’re “forcing it out” or finding yourself starting and stopping several times.)
- Painful urination
That being said, what causes pelvic floor dysfunction? Is it just a health condition, or are there other factors in play? We find out next.
Causes Of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
Research is still ongoing to determine the exact causes of pelvic floor dysfunction. Doctors, however, have linked it to events that tend to generally weaken your pelvic muscles or tear its connective tissue.
Some of the known factors, in this case, include (5):
- Traumatic injury to your pelvic area like car accidents
- Overusing your pelvic muscles (For instance, going to the bathroom too often or pushing too hard, which can ultimately lead to poor muscle coordination.)
- Pelvic surgery
- Pregnancy and childbirth (Pregnancy is believed to be the most common cause of pelvic floor dysfunction. It mostly manifests itself after giving birth. This can be attributed to the fact that your pelvic floor muscles are usually strained during pregnancy. Long or difficult labor also only worsens the situation.)
- Nerve damage
- Hereditary condition (In some cases, pelvic floor dysfunction is known to run in the family. Researchers are, however, still investigating the exact genetic cause of pelvic floor dysfunction.)
Diagnosis And Treatment Of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
First off, you should not try to self-diagnose your symptoms. This is because they may serve as an indicator of a more serious condition. Usually, your doctor reviews your medical history while observing your symptoms. This will then be followed by physical evaluations that check for muscle spasms, knots, and weakness.
When checking for your ability to control your pelvic muscles and contraction, an internal exam may be performed. This is usually done by putting a perimeter into your vagina or rectum. Other fewer alternatives include placing electrodes on your perineum to check if you’re able to contract and relax your pelvic muscles.
On the issue of treatment, regardless of the option used, the goal is similar. That is to relax your pelvic muscles, thus giving you more control and making bowel movements easier. Sure, surgery is an option, however, there are some less invasive treatment options available.
One of the most common treatments for pelvic floor dysfunction is biofeedback. This procedure allows your doctor to monitor contractions and relaxations in your pelvic muscles via special sensors. After these observations, they are then able to advise you on how best to improve your condition.
Other treatment alternatives include:
- Self-care. You should avoid straining or pushing yourself when using the bathroom. Doing that goes a long way in alleviating any stress on your pelvic floor muscles. Warm baths can also be very useful since warm water relaxes your muscles while improving blood circulation.
- Medication. Muscle relaxants can be prescribed by your physician to help with your symptoms. The relaxants are particularly effective in preventing your pelvic muscles from contracting (1).
That being said, how effective is exercise as a preventive or a curative measure for pelvic floor dysfunction? Maybe you’re wondering, “can I exercise if I have a pelvic floor dysfunction?” Well, yes, you can, but you need to know the right workouts to use since some may just make things worse.
That said, what exactly is the relationship between pelvic floor dysfunction and exercise? Sure, techniques like Kegels won’t do much to help with the condition once it sets in. However, they can be really instrumental as a preventive measure.
This is because they require muscle contraction while the goal is to relax your muscles. But they can really strengthen your pelvic muscles and can ultimately help you avoid pelvic floor dysfunction. So next, we look at how you can strengthen your pelvic floor with Kegels.
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How To Strengthen Pelvic Floor With Kegels?
Kegel exercises are muscle contractions on your pelvic floor. They are particularly famed for their role in strengthening pelvic floor muscles, creating a domino of health benefits (9).
How To Do Kegel Exercises?
Have you been wondering how to do Kegels the right way using the proper form? Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Start by identifying the exact muscles you need to work on. The most effective way of doing this is stopping your urination midstream.
- Now contract these muscles and hold the position for up to 5 seconds to successfully perform Kegels. Release them for 5 seconds.
- Do ten reps three times daily.
Now, Kegels can sometimes be difficult to pull off for some people. If that’s the case for you, then you should try:
- Performing them while lying down is usually the easiest position to perform Kegels in.
- Improving your technique for maximum impact. Thinking of yourself sitting on a marble then tightening your pelvis to lift the marble should do the trick.
- Focusing on tightening your pelvic floor muscles only. Don’t flex muscles in your thighs, abdomen, or butt. Also, avoid holding your breath during the process. Instead, breathe freely.
Finally, you shouldn’t consistently use Kegel exercises to start and stop your urine stream. That’s because it may result in incomplete emptying of your bladder, putting you at risk of contracting urinary tract infections (4).
Just like all other workouts, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. While effective, Kegels may not always work for everyone due to several factors. That, however, doesn’t mean that there are no alternatives you can use to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. There are quite a few, and we look at some of them in the next section.
How To Strengthen Pelvic Floor Muscles Without Kegels?
There are several options you can use to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles if you’re struggling with Kegels. Performing these exercises in different combinations is the best way to yield maximum results. Given the variety available, you should pick moves that you’re most comfortable and familiar with.
Below are some of the top workouts you can try to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles:
This is a stability and balance exercise that engages several muscles simultaneously, including the pelvic floor (2).
Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Get on all fours with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Now brace your core while drawing your shoulder blades down your back toward your hips.
- Start the move by simultaneously straightening and raising your right arm and left leg. Your pelvis and shoulders should be in a neutral position. Also, don’t lower or raise your head. Hold this position for about 2 seconds.
- Bend and lower your arm and leg down back to the original position without compromising on your stability. Now switch and raise your left arm and right leg. This completes one rep.
- Perform ten reps and three sets.
Squats are one the best exercises out there when it comes to strength gains. This is probably because it engages some of the largest muscles in your body including your hamstrings, glutes, and quadriceps (3). You should, however, make sure that you have mastered the correct form before adding any resistance.
Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Stand upright and place your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. You should also ensure that your toes are slightly pointed out.
- Next, bend your knees while pushing your hips and butt back, as though you’re imitating sitting on a chair. Ensure your chin is tucked and your neck is neutral throughout the process.
- Now gradually drop down until your thighs become parallel to the ground. Your weight should be on your heels and knees slightly bowed outward.
- Now straighten your legs and return to your starting position.
- Do about 15 reps.
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Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Get into your starting position by lying on the floor. Ensure your spine is against the floor; your knee is bent at 90 degrees. Also, your feet should be flat, and your arms straight at your sides with their palms facing downward.
- Next, inhale while pushing through your heels, then raise your hips off the ground by squeezing your hamstrings, glutes, and pelvic floor. Also, ensure your body is resting on your shoulders and upper back, and it forms a straight line down from your knees.
- Pause for about 1-2 seconds while at the top. Now return to your starting position.
- Perform 10-15 reps in two to three sets. Rest for about 30-60 seconds between sets.
Tabletops are leg movements that are usually the foundation of several moves in a pilates workout. When you add some splits to the equation, your hip and pelvic floor muscles are also activated.
Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Get into your starting position by lying with your back on the floor and your knees bent. This position should leave your thighs perpendicular to the floor and shins parallel to the floor.
- Now brace your abs, then activate your inner thighs with your legs touching.
- Next, gently split your legs so that each of your knees falls outward in a steady, controlled movement. You should only go as far as you’re comfortable with.
- Slowly raise back to the starting position.
- Perform 10-15 reps and three sets.
Benefits Of Pelvic Floor Exercises
Some of the benefits that can be realized from pelvic floor exercises include:
- Reduced chances of developing Prolapse. Yes, pelvic floor dysfunction and prolapse exercises do have a relationship. These exercises have been shown to reduce the risk of developing prolapse when done correctly (7).
- Improved sexual sensation and function. If you’ve been researching pelvic floor dysfunctions, chances are you’ve come across titles like “pelvic floor exercise for erectile dysfunction.” These exercises are believed to increase sensitivity during sex, therefore resulting in stronger orgasms in women. For men, the exercises have been shown to reduce the symptoms of erectile dysfunction (8).
- Pain relief. These exercises are known to alleviate pelvic pain by strengthening your muscles (6).
The Bottom Line
Pelvic floor dysfunction can be caused by several factors. It can also manifest itself in different levels of severity. You should, therefore, always seek professional medical advice when you start experiencing any of the mentioned symptoms.
However, some relaxation and stretching exercises can help strengthen your pelvic floor and help reduce these symptoms. The beauty of these exercises is that there’s a wide variety to choose from. So if Kegels are just not your thing, tabletops, bridges, squats, and bird dogs may be just what you need. Finally, always remember to use the proper form and take enough breaks between the workouts.
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This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Advances in the Treatment of Chronic Pelvic Pain: A Multidisciplinary Approach to Treatment (2017, nih.gov)
- Bird Dog guide: How to Master the Bird Dog Exercise (2021, masterclass.com)
- Health Benefits of Squats (2021, webmd.com)
- Kegel exercises: A how-to guide for women (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Pelvic Floor Dysfunction (2020, clevelandclinic.org)
- Pelvic Floor Muscle Relaxation For Men (n.d., pelvicpain.org.au)
- Pelvic organ prolapse: Pelvic floor exercises and vaginal pessaries (2018, nih.gov)
- What are pelvic floor exercises? (2020, nhs.uk)
- Working your pelvic floor (n.d., pelvicfloorfirst.org.au)