Understanding Your Pelvic Floor: Beyond Kegels.

Who’s heard of a Kegel? My guess is most of you have. (Who also just tried to do a Kegel?)

A Kegel is a pelvic floor muscle contraction. As a pelvic floor physical therapist, I talk about the pelvic floor every day. Join me today for just a snippet of what I talk about each day. We will address the Who and the What of the pelvic floor.

Understanding Your Pelvic Floor: Beyond Kegels.

Who can benefit from understanding your pelvic floor? 

  • Pregnant women.

You have a growing uterus placing increased pressure down on your pelvic floor muscles for months. This can cause the pelvic floor muscles to have to work harder or, on the flip side, have difficulty meeting the new demands.

  • Postpartum mamas.

Your pelvic floor is what surrounds the vaginal canal, and when you deliver a baby, the pelvic floor stretches. This can, but not always, lead to things like incontinence, prolapse, and pain. Our bodies are amazing, and no other muscles are made to stretch like that, but sometimes retraining your pelvic floor after delivery can help with any symptoms now and prevent any issues from appearing later.

  • Weightlifters, runners, yogis, athletes.

Being aware of your pelvic floor while you work out can reap benefits long-term! Will you have to be aware of your pelvic floor at all times? No! But just by being informed on how things are going down there, you can be more aware if things do start to compensate or not function as well as they could.

  • Anyone with a pelvic floor.

Many changes occur as we age, whether we have babies or not, and having the knowledge of your pelvic floor now can help prevent pelvic floor dysfunction later in life and know when to seek help for your pelvic floor.

 What is the pelvic floor? 

The pelvic floor is not just one muscle. A pelvic floor is actually a group of muscles that sit at the bottom of our pelvis. We divide up the pelvic floor into three separate layers that have both slow-twitch fibers and fast-twitch fibers, which serve different purposes. For example, do I need to hold my pee in until I can make it to the bathroom, or do I need my pelvic floor to turn on quickly to avoid leaking when I jump?

Just like other muscles in our body need strength and endurance to be able to function optimally, so does our pelvic floor! The pelvic floor muscles need to be strong, have endurance, and be able to react quickly to various forces, such as constant pounding from running, a big sneeze, or jumping on a trampoline. The pelvic floor muscles also need to be able to relax fully to allow for complete emptying of bladder/bowel, intercourse, delivering a baby, etc.

Sometimes, incontinence and other pelvic floor issues can actually be due to more of an overactive pelvic floor. If your bicep was working to hold a bag of groceries all day, and at the end of the day you go to catch something, it would be much harder to do because that muscle is going to be fatigued. The pelvic floor acts similarly. If you don’t let your pelvic floor relax, it may not be able to achieve as strong of a contraction due to fatigue or extra tension and may also contribute to pain with intercourse, insertion of tampon, etc. This is where a pelvic floor physical therapist can be of help to determine… do you need Kegels OR do you need more pelvic floor relaxation (or both!)?

The different functions of the pelvic floor include the following:

  • Support the organs – bladder, uterus, and rectum
  • Work with the diaphragm and deep core muscles for relaxation and core stability
  • Contract/relax openings of the urethra, rectum, and vagina to assist in urination/defecation and to prevent unwanted leakage
  • Help with stabilization of the SI joint, pelvis, low back, and hip (which can also play a role in pain!)
  • Sexual function
  • Also functions as a sump pump for the venous and lymphatic systems

Basically, our pelvic floor is a muscular-multitool-hammock. It helps with support of our pelvic organs, stability of our lumbopelvic region, helps us enjoy sex, and helps close the holes down there when we want them closed and open them when we need them open.

Who knew the pelvic floor had so many functions?!

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Renee was raised an Iowan before moving to Kansas City to play soccer in college and receive her doctorate of physical therapy degree. She and her husband moved back to Iowa a couple of years ago for her husband's residency at the U of I. Renee recently added "twin mom" to her life resume and is also a proud dog mom to her fur baby, Archie. She works as a women's health physical therapist in Cedar Rapids and has a passion for educating, empowering, and supporting women in all phases of life, especially through pregnancy and postpartum. A few of her other loves include a good cup of coffee, a craft brew, all dogs, the Great British Baking Show, and anything outdoors.