The Importance of Pelvic Floor Exercises

WHO? Everyone! Although many women are taught pelvic floor exercises during and after pregnancy, these are soon forgotten. Strong and healthy pelvic floor muscles are vital for women at all stages of life, not just through pregnancy. Doing regular pelvic floor exercises keeps these muscles strong, and helps protect from problems that might otherwise occur such as incontinence, pelvic and menstrual problems.

A recent study has suggested that pelvic floor exercises may also benefit men with problems, such as erectile dysfunction and incontinence.

Common causes of weak pelvic floor muscles are; pregnancy and childbirth, after prostrate or pelvic surgery, long term conditions such as a persistent cough or multiple sclerosis, obesity, constipation, menopause, ageing, high impact sports and repeated heavy lifting.

WHAT? The pelvic floor muscles are like a hammock at the bottom of your pelvis, shaped like a figure of eight between your pubic bone and your tailbone. They are responsible for supporting the urethra, bladder, uterus and rectum.

To identify the muscles, try tightening the muscles around your vagina and back passage and lift up, as if you're stopping the flow of water and wind at the same time. The contraction should be upward and inward, not bearing down. When doing the exercises you must make sure that you continue to breath normally, you should be able to hold a conversation, you don't use your tummy, thigh or buttock muscles and don't squeeze your legs together.

WHY? Here's a few good reasons why you should be doing pelvic floor exercises:

1. Helps to prevent incontinence. Incontinence is not just a problem in older age, it can effect women of any age, especially new mums. For most women, weak pelvic floor muscles are the real problem behind an overactive bladder and diminished sexual stimulation. Weak pelvic floor muscles are not normal at any age and may be reversed through simple exercise.

The risk of urinary incontinence is highest; during or after pregnancy, during and after menopause, in cases of obesity and cigarette smoking, following prostate enlargement and/or surgery, hysterectomy, radiation therapy to the pelvis, in cases of diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, back injury, cerebral vascular accident and dementia.

2. Supports pregnancy, labour and delivery. During pregnancy, strong pelvic floor muscles support the growing uterus, allowing the mother to carry more comfortably. During childbirth, strong pelvic floor muscles help delivery and pushing the baby out. After childbirth, strong pelvic floor muscles stimulate blood flow in the pelvic area aiding recovery from stitches or episiotomy.

Strong pelvic floor muscles are equally important for those who had a caesarean birth, even though the muscles are not weakened by childbirth. The muscles have still had to support the pregnancy for 9 months.

3. Decreases the risk of genital prolapse. This is an uncomfortable condition in which the bladder, rectum or uterus move down into the vagina. The most common cause is trauma during childbirth, often in difficult or multiple births but it can be caused by menopause or even a genetic predisposition. Keeping the pelvic floor muscles strong is the best preventative measure you can take and are prescribed in minor cases to correct the problem.

4. Increases sexual pleasure. Strong pelvic floor muscles can greatly improve your sexual arousal, your sexual response, the level of sensation you feel during intercourse, and your ability to reach an orgasm. Practice your exercises during this time and your partner will thank you!

Sexual difficulties in women can occur because of a weak pelvic floor muscles or because a woman is not producing sufficient lubrication. These difficulties include: vaginismus (an extremely uncomfortable spasm of the muscles surrounding the vagina), painful intercourse, and an inability to experience orgasm. When doing pelvic floor exercises, the increased blood flow creates extra lubrication by causing secretions to seep through the walls of the vagina. This can help prevent discomfort during sexual activity.

5. Helps you to activate you core muscles. The pelvic floor muscles are the foundation of your core. When contracting your pelvic floor muscles, you also contract your Tranversus Abdominis (TvA) muscle, the deepest and most important muscle of your core. This is a natural girdle around your middle and is responsible for a strong posture, flattening your tummy and pinching your waist.

6. Improve posture and back pain If the pelvic floor muscles are weak, and not working together with the muscles of the abdomen and back, structural imbalances can lead to abdominal and back pain.

WHEN? Anytime. Like any other muscle within the body they benefit from exercise and toning on a regular basis. Try and do one set of slow contractions and one set of fast contractions at least 4 times a day. Find a trigger in your everyday life that will help you to remember to do them; boiling the kettle, feeding your baby, brushing your teeth, going to bed.

WHERE? Anywhere. They're simple, they're cheap, they're effective and you can do them when sitting, standing or lying down. In bed, in the shower, eating a meal, working on the computer, washing up, walking down the street, in the car, on the bus, watching TV, reading a book, in the garden, at the beach, on holiday, waiting in the post office queue, at the shops, in the waiting room, with a partner...the possibilities are endless. Just make sure you do them!

Two Pelvic Floor Exercises for you to try:

Slow contractions help to increase the strength of your pelvic floor.

1. Lift your pelvic floor muscles to a count of 10. 2. Hold the muscles for a count of 10. 3. Relax your muscles and rest for 10 seconds. 4. Repeat up to 10 times.

Fast contractions help your pelvic floor cope with pressure, for example when you sneeze, cough or laugh.

1. Lift your pelvic floor muscles quickly. 2. Hold the muscles for 1 second. 3. Relax the muscles and rest for 1 second. 4. Repeat 10 times.