The pelvic floor is an incredible part of the body that does not always receive the accolades it deserves. It is essential to so many functions ranging from using the restroom to carrying a pregnancy. It is important to know how to properly care for this part of the body, the signs to look for if you suspect something could be off, and the steps to take should you have concerns that it may not be operating as well as it should. There are a few differences between the male and female pelvic anatomy - so for the purposes for this blog, we will be referring to the female anatomy.
First, let’s chat about what the pelvic floor is. Your pelvic floor is composed of structures such as muscles and connective tissues. These attach to the bones at the bottom of the pelvis and help to support the organs within.
The pelvic floor has a wide range of duties from those that we see to those that we don’t. Here are just a few:
Support: One of the main things that you may think of when you think of the pelvic floor is support! There are some significant organs contained within this area such as the bladder, urethra, uterus, vagina, anus, rectum and bowel. These organs require these muscles in order to stay in place and function correctly. It also supports the rest of the trunk of the body to make basic movements such as walking, running, and dancing away!
Using the restroom: These muscles play a direct role in our ability and comfort when using the restroom. Our capability to move out or keep in urine, gas, and stool are directly related to the strength of the pelvic floor.
Sex: The pelvic floor relaxes and contracts during sex to allow for vaginal penetration as well as increased vaginal lubrication and bloodflow.
Pregnancy and childbirth: Pregnancy changes the body in many different ways and the pelvic floor is a crucial part of it. Vaginal delivery is one of the biggest events the pelvic floor can play a part in. Contrary to popular belief, even if one does not have a vaginal birth, the pelvic floor is still greatly involved and impacted by pregnancy. The pelvic floor often bears much of the weight of the growing child along with the amniotic sac, placenta, the growing uterus, and all of the shifted and squished organs.
So as you can see, the pelvic floor is pretty important. But how do you know if yours is healthy? Sometimes pelvic floor changes can be a result of life changes such as age, pregnancy, or activity level. And other times there can be more other things going on that require medical assistance. So if you have questions, speaking with your doctor or a pelvic floor therapist are great places to start!
One common sign of pelvic floor weakness is bladder leakage when laughing, sneezing, coughing, jumping, squatting, etc. Something else to watch for is if you struggle to control your bowel movements or gas. Another thing that can occur when the pelvic floor becomes weak, is pelvic organ prolapse. Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when the pelvic organs do not have enough support, causing them to move lower in the body and even protrude outside the body or into one another.
Your pelvic floor can also undergo changes that result in pelvic floor tightness. A few signs of pelvic floor over-tightness would be frequent constipation or urinary frequency, pelvic pain, and painful intercourse.
One opportunity to check in on your pelvic floor strength and any changes you might be experiencing is during menstrual cup use. Here are some ways you can use clues from your menstrual cup experience to inform you of pelvic floor changes:
- If the pelvic floor is weak, it can be difficult to form a seal between the vaginal walls and the cup and it will slip down.
- If the pelvic floor is overly-tight, the vaginal walls will push the cup out of the vaginal canal. This can sometimes be helped by using a smaller cup or a cup made of softer silicone as these options may put less pressure on the vaginal walls and help the cup stay in place. A menstrual disc is another great option as it sits higher in the vaginal canal and uses its rim to rest in place rather than forming a seal such as a cup does.
So what can you do if you fear your pelvic floor may be a little out of whack? While it’s great to seek out as much information as you can find, it’s best to speak with your medical provider about your concern and anything you may have noticed. We can offer general tips for pelvic floor health, like keeping active, not straining too hard when you make bowel movements, and incorporating tools such as a Squatty Potty are all great things to do! But the most important thing you can do is to listen to your body and speak to a doctor or pelvic floor therapist who can pinpoint exactly what you need. Because the pelvic floor muscles can be challenging to target, it is important to work with someone who can guide you and work with you along this journey.
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