If you’re hovering over the toilet, it’s time to stop
We’re all guilty of taking one look at a public bathroom toilet seat and deciding not to sit down. But experts say opting to hover over that toilet seat can cause real problems in the long run.
“Many of us take urination and defecation for granted and are not aware of the complex and important interactions between various muscles that need to occur to adequately pass urine and stool,” says Dr. Kristin Vercillo, a board-certified colon and rectal surgeon at Advocate Condell Medical Center. “You should avoid frequent hovering over toilet seats because this can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction and inadequate emptying of the bladder and rectum.”
The pelvic floor is a group of several muscles that support the organs in the pelvis, Dr. Vercillo says. Because a strong pelvic floor is crucial to supporting your organs and preventing prolapse and various urination and defecation disorders, it’s important to appropriately relax your pelvic floor when you use the restroom.
“When you hover in a slight squat over a toilet seat, you’re creating excess tension and contraction of the pelvic floor, which works against the natural relaxation needed to initiate or continue urination and defecation,” Dr. Vercillo says. “As a result, one needs to strain, which can lead to progressive pelvic floor dysfunction over time.”
Pelvic floor dysfunction can look like too much or too little tension in the pelvic floor, making urination or defecation difficult. This leads to the vicious cycle of more straining, which creates more tension or weakness, which then begets worsening pelvic floor dysfunction. This ultimately leading to prolapse of one or multiple pelvic structures, like the bladder, vagina, uterus or rectum, Dr. Vercillo explains.
Prolapse is a serious condition that requires medical attention, but if you’re having difficulties with urination or defecation, whether it’s regarding initiating, completing or incontinence, it’s also a good idea to seek help, Dr. Vercillo says.
“One of the most important messages I communicate to my patients is how important it is to avoid straining to urinate or defecate and that years and years of straining can lead to many problems down the road that could all have likely been avoided if they had not been straining all of those years,” says Dr. Vercillo.
One of the simplest ways to strengthen your pelvic floor is to perform tried and true Kegel exercises. Dr. Vercillo provides these instructions:
- Contract your pelvic floor muscles and hold the contraction for 10 seconds
- Release the contraction and relax for 10 seconds
- Repeat 10 times and do these twice a day, daily
When encountering a toilet seat you don’t want to sit down on, consider applying a toilet seat liner or laying down some toilet paper to create a barrier, Dr. Vercillo says. You can even buy your own box of disposable, individually wrapped toilet seat liners to keep on you when you leave your home.
“Hovering over the toilet seat should be avoided, and instead simply sit down on the toilet seat and relax as you would at home,” Dr. Vercillo says. “Most people’s hands are far dirtier than their upper posterior thighs and lateral buttocks which touch the toilet seat when you sit down.”