The Value of Pelvic Floor Exercises and Self Care Tips For the Pelvic Floor

Female Pelvic Floor

Doing pelvic floor exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles can help you overcome incontinence, prepare for and recover from childbirth, and overcome sexual and erectile dysfunction. Jump to pelvic floor videos.

What is the Pelvic Floor?

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that run from side-to-side below the hip bone and from your pubic bone in front to your tailbone in rear. This group of muscles supports the organs in your abdomen, and the openings from your bladder, colon, and uterus (for women) all pass through the these muscles. 

The pelvic floor has three main functions:

  • Supports the organs in your pelvis and lower abdomen
  • Controls the urge to urinate or defecate by sending signals to the bladder and colon and opening and closing the urethra and anal canal
  • Contracts muscles in responce to sexual arousal and enhances sexual enjoyment.

Unfortunately, such a complex structure is prone to dysfunction in both women and men, though women more frequently have problems. Many factors can compromise the function of the pelvic floor, including inflammation, infection, trauma (injury, surgery, abuse, childbirth), and a variety of mechanical conditions ranging from weak muscles to spinal and pelvic misalignment.

Pelvic floor disorders include pelvic pain, endometriosis, prostatitis, incontinence, irritable bowel syndrome, and uncomfortable sex, urination, or bowel movements.

Why Do Exercises for the Pelvic Floor?

If you have a weak pelvic floor, it doesn't function properly. Weak pelvic muscles in women contribute to incontinence and reduced sexual response. In men, weak pelvic muscles can contribute to prostrate problems.

Weak muscles are common. These muscles become weaker with inactivity and often through hormonal changes in women's bodies, especially pregnancy and childbirth. Other factors that place pressure on the pelvic floor and can weaken it include excess weight, ongoing constipation, and a chronic cough  Pelvic surgery can also damage the muscles, particularly in men.

Self Care for the Pelvic Floor

For self care of pelvic pain problems, I recommend Heal Pelvic Pain: The Proven Stretching, Strengthening, and Nutrition Program for Relieving Pain, Incontinence, I.B.S, and Other Symptoms Without Surgery by Amy Stein, a physical therapist who specializes in manual therapies for pelvic floor disorders and pain. Stein offers suggestions for exercise, nutrition, and self-care of pelvic floor problems. Almost anyone can use these natural healing techniques at home to address the underlying causes of pelvic pain and dysfunction.

Stein's self-treatment program for pelvic dysfunction begins with eleven "letting go" pelvic floor exercises designed to release tension. Why? Tensing muscles is an unconscious and automatic reaction to stress, and pelvic floor muscles often become chronically tense, making them weak, which leads to pain, which leads to more tension and more pain, creating a vicious cycle.

Stein recommends adding strengthening pelvic floor exercises when pain has decreased by at least 50 percent and other symptoms have improved. Kegel exercises, in a number of different variations, are the basis of strengthening the pelvic floor.

Although many health sources promote Kegel exercises as "the way" to deal with problems, Stein believes that strengthening muscles before releasing tension is counterproductive. First relaxing the muscles makes the strengthening exercises more effective.

Basically, a Kegel exercise is a subtle contracting and releasing of the muscles of the pelvic floor. It’s important to learn the correct technique and avoid tensing the large surrounding muscles of the buttocks, thighs, and abdomen. Tensing the wrong muscles makes the Kegel exercises ineffective.

Stein also teaches simple self-massage techniques to help you massage away the tension in your pelvic floor and offers nutritional guidelines to promote healing of pelvic floor problems. If you deal with pain, incontinence, or other pelvic problems, Stein's book offers an alternative to medications that only cover up symptoms.

Pelvic Floor Exercises: A How-To Guide for Women from the Mayo Clinic

Kegels for Men from WebMD

Two-Part Video: A Urologist Talks about Pelvic Floor Muscles and Exercises

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