Have you forgotten about this muscle?
When we talk about strength training, people usually focus on the muscles they can see like their biceps or legs. But there’s a group of muscles you can’t see that make a huge difference for your health: the pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that support your organs. This includes the bladder, uterus, urethra and rectum. While these aren’t muscles many people think about, they are constantly being used.
“These muscles need to be strong enough to hold your organs in place so they can function properly,” explains Wendy Rousseau, occupational therapist at Aurora Health Center in Menomonee Falls, Wis. “The muscles also need to be able to contract and relax so we can control our bladder and bowels.”
If your pelvic floor gets too stressed, it can weaken. This is commonly associated with pregnancy-related changes to the body, heavy straining during childbirth and damage to the pelvic floor sustained during childbirth. But this isn’t an issue restricted to those who bear children. It’s associated with several other things like repeated heavy lifting, prostate cancer treatment in men, repeated straining such as during bowel movements or with a chronic cough.
Here are some signs you may be experiencing a weakened pelvic floor:
- Inability to control leakage of urine or bowel movements
- Problems with holding back gas or bowel movements
- Dribbling after urination, constant leakage of urine or difficulty stopping the urine stream
- Trouble with emptying the bladder completely
- Frequent urination
Rousseau knows discussing issues in this area isn’t always easy, but you are not alone.
“This is a very sensitive area to talk about. However, most people are not aware of how many others have pelvic floor symptoms and problems too,” she says.
In fact, there’s plenty you can do to help. Pelvic floor therapy is a non-surgical approach focusing on each person’s individual symptoms. Specially trained physical and occupational therapists can educate you on exercises and lifestyle changes while also providing hands on therapy.
“You should seek out pelvic floor therapy when symptoms are interfering with participation in day-to-day activities that you find most meaningful and that are disrupting your overall quality of life,” Rousseau says. “The pelvic floor therapists at Aurora have taken very special training in this area and are here to help.”
Over time, pelvic floor therapy strengthens those muscles and can help you reduce and even eliminate symptoms associated with a stressed or weakened pelvic floor.
“Even though it may be hard to bring up I would encourage someone who is having these symptoms to talk to their doctor,” recommends Rousseau.
About the Author
LeeAnn Betz, health enews contributor, is a media relations manager for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a former TV news executive producer with a background in investigations, consumer news and in-depth storytelling. Outside of work, she enjoys CrossFit, baking, finding a good cup of coffee and being a mom.