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The Importance of Strong Pelvic Floor Muscles

One of the most significant problems faced during pregnancy is a weak pelvic floor. In this article, our physiotherapist Emily Heah advises on the basics of the pelvic floor, its related problems and how to strengthen the area.

Pain and discomfort is one thing, but inconvenience is another if an expectant mother has a weak pelvic floor. It is common for us to hear the old wives’ tale that backaches and incontinence is to be expected during pregnancy. Incontinence refers to the involuntary loss of bowel and urinary control. 

However, this does not need to be the case at all because these discomforts point to a single source: a weak pelvic floor. The good news is that this old wives’ tale can be left in the past — all that’s needed is to strengthen these core muscles for a more comfortable pregnancy.

pelvic floor muscles

What is the pelvic floor?

Imagine a hammock of muscles and ligaments that attaches to pubic bone (in front), sit bones on both sides, and to the tailbone (at the back) — this is the pelvic floor. It is a group of muscles and connective tissue that are nestled at the base of the pelvic cavity.

What do the pelvic floor muscles do?

The main functions of the pelvic floor muscles include bladder and bowel control; supporting the growing weight of the fetus during pregnancy; facilitating the birthing process; and working as core muscles to support and stabilise the spine.

Additionally, and mostly unacknowledged, the pelvic floor helps to  increase physical intensity during sexual intercourse.

How did my pelvic floor muscles become weak?

Our Women’s Health specialist and principal physiotherapist, Sylvia, says that there are myriad causes for weakened pelvic floor muscles. Common reasons include aging; obesity; excessive heavy lifting; pregnancy and childbirth; frequent constipation; hormonal changes, especially during menopause; surgery; and even chronic coughing and sneezing.

What happens when my pelvic floor muscles are weak?

It’s located at the base of pelvis so it is a challenge to identify if your pelvic floor muscles are not functioning well as they’re hidden from plain view. Chances are, your pelvic floor is weak if you experience urinary incontinence (inability to control urinary urge) pelvic organ prolapse, which may involve the rectum, intestine, womb, or bladder; difficulties during sexual intercourse (lowered intensity); and chronic backaches.

Physiotherapy treatment

One of the most common solutions in strengthening the pelvic floor muscles is to undertake Kegel exercises. Developed by Dr Arnold Kegel in 1948, these exercises target the pelvic floor muscles, strengthening them over time.

Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles is highly recommended to improve your quality of life. Strong pelvic floor muscles also ensure a smooth and comfortable pregnancy for expectant women. In addition to restoring bladder and bowel control as well as reducing the risk of other related ailments, stronger pelvic floor muscles also improves blood circulation which helps the vagina and perineum to heal faster after vaginal delivery.

References

  1. Mørkved, S., Bø, K., Schei, B., & Salvesen, K. Å. (2003). Pelvic floor muscle training during pregnancy to prevent urinary incontinence: a single-blind randomized controlled trial. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 101(2), 313-319.
  2. Bump, R. C., Mattiasson, A., Bø, K., Brubaker, L. P., DeLancey, J. O., Klarskov., P & Smith, A. R. (1996). The standardization of terminology of female pelvic organ prolapse and pelvic floor dysfunction. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology, 175(1), 10-17.
  3. Bø, K., Talseth, T., & Holme, I. (1999). Single blind, randomised controlled trial of pelvic floor exercises, electrical stimulation, vaginal cones, and no treatment in management of genuine stress incontinence in women. Bmj,318(7182), 487-493.
  4. Dumoulin, C., & Hay-Smith, J. (2010). Pelvic floor muscle training versus no treatment, or inactive control treatments, for urinary incontinence in womenCochrane Database Syst Rev, 1(1).

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