Understanding Your Pelvic Floor
The elusive Pelvic Floor! What is it? What does it do? Where is it? How do I know if mine is working fine?
I’m sure you all have a vague idea of where our pelvic floor it, and some of you probably have a good idea of how to “activate” it. But why does it matter? How does it actually work?
Let’s pretend like you have zero idea of what the pelvic floor is…
What is it for? The purpose of the pelvic floor is to assist in bladder and bowel function, to help keep our pelvic organs inside and supported in the body and to allow us to have sexual intercourse.
The pelvic floor is made up of two components, an “active” component and a “passive” component. The active component is the bit we all know about it, the muscles. So, we’ll start here.
Explore the Muscles that make up your Pelvic Floor!
There may be more than you expected, right?! All of these muscles have an important role to play within the body, and can have some implications if their structure or function is impacted.
The pelvic floor muscles are divided into two layers. We have a superficial layer, which is the part closest to the outside of the body and forms a figure 8 of sphincters around the vagina and the anus. The main action of this set of muscles is closure.
We then move on to the deeper layer, this is the layer that everyone is harping on about when we’re talking about helping to control your bladder and bowel function! The deep layer spans from our tailbone to our pubic bone like a sling or hammock across the floor of our pelvis (hence, pelvic floor). When we squeeze this muscle, the muscle lifts helping to lift the organs up into the pelvis, allowing extra support when we need it (like sneezing!) It also has a very important secondary roll. When we activate our deep pelvic floor it also pulls forward, pulling all the organ’s outlets forward with it, helping to “close” the passageway that our urine and stool comes out of.
If we have any damage to these muscles, either to their structure (just like we might injure a muscle playing sport) or their ability to function (Can they turn on? Can they stay on? Can they turn off?), we may find ourselves with symptoms like urine or stool leaking, heaviness or painful intercourse. But we’ll come to this a little later.
Passive Support from Pelvic Fascia
This component of your pelvic floor plays a vital role in holding all of your pelvic organs in place – and will start to ‘sag’ over time. But, we can help with that!
Now I’ll circle back to where we started. We have the second component to discuss. The “passive” component. This passive component is made up of fascia. It’s basically a thin collagenous tissue that wraps a layer around all the muscles and organs and helps keep things where they should be. It slings the organs up into their position in the pelvis and allows the organs to sit in their optimal position for their function – storing and releasing urine and stool. Over time, like all tissue in our body that is made up of collagen (like our skin), our collagen decreases, and things start to sag (hello wrinkles!). The same can be said for our pelvic floor fascia. Of course, the amount this happens during out lifetime is subject to genetics and life experiences (childbirth, chronic constipation or coughing, etc.), so no two people will have the same pelvic floor.
If we damage the fascia, say during childbirth, we may decrease our organ support. This can lead to some changes in the pelvic floor, and the way that our organs function. For instance, if our urethra is not being supported by our fascia anymore, it’ll be a little floppy and struggle to withstand some of the pressures our daily life activities ask of us. This may cause us to have episodes of urinary incontinence.
But it’s not all bad news, as this is where physiotherapy can play a really vital role, by assessing both your muscles and organ position, looking at the way your pelvic floor functions and moves when you do, and how you utilise your other body systems to help decrease the pressures in our pelvic floor (like having a strong skeletal system to offload the pelvic floor and learning to breath effectively!).
If you feel that you want to learn more about your pelvic floor, have had a baby (ever in your life, not just recently), or having any symptoms such as leaking urine or stool, heaviness in the vagina, pain with intercourse or inserting tampons (and the list goes on!), book in to see a Pelvic Health Physiotherapist today.