A healthy pelvic floor is crucial for every woman at all stages of her life.
Bringing tone and vitality to this area will help protect you from many problems that might occur. By exercising your pelvic floor you will help to strengthen the muscles which support the urethra, bladder, uterus and rectum. In turn this could dramatically alleviate urinary incontinence, support childbirth and discourage pelvic disease and menstrual problems.
Many women are aware of the need for pelvic floor exercises but few carry them out regularly and effectively. Kegel exercises are often taught at ante-natal classes but are soon forgotten. Only the disciples of yoga and Pilates are likely to fully appreciate their benefits. In yoga, the pelvic floor exercise, or mula bandha, is one of the fundamentals of core health.
Your pelvic floor (pubococcygeal or PC) muscles are responsible for holding all the pelvic organs within the pelvis. Slung like a hammock at the base of your pelvis, the pelvic floor consists of a deep muscle layer and a superficial muscle layer that work together to keep your pelvic organs healthy and in good working order. As well as creating strength and tone to the muscle itself, exercises increase the blood flow to this region which helps with healthy cell renewal. Like any other muscle within the body they benefit from exercise and toning on a regular basis.
When the pelvic floor muscle weakens, a number of things can happen. A woman may develop urinary or stool incontinence, that is, an inability to control the bladder or bowel.
A weak pelvic floor muscle can also lead to poor muscle action during labour and delivery; a decrease in sexual pleasure; or genital prolapse, an uncomfortable condition in which the bladder, rectum, or uterus moves down into the vagina.
A weak pelvic floor plays a part in many ailments:
Contrary to popular myth, urinary incontinence is not a normal part of ageing. It affects women of all ages, and especially new mums. Because of the personal nature of the problem, and the belief that no help is available, many women do not report their symptoms to their doctors. Continence Foundation research indicates that women will suffer, on average, for 4 years before consulting their doctor. Yet today's health care professionals offer a number of treatment options for bladder control, such as pelvic muscle exercises, biofeedback, bladder training, and even pelvic surgery. Doctors recommend pelvic floor exercises as the first approach to urinary stress incontinence.
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.
There are two types of urinary incontinence: stress incontinence and urge incontinence.
In stress incontinence, urine leaks out occasionally when doing such things as coughing, sneezing, lifting, or exercising.
Urge incontinence means that a woman is unable to hold her urine when there is a strong need to urinate. Women that suffer from U.I. also tend to have more urinary tract infections and skin problems than other women. The risk of U.I. is especially high during or after pregnancy, following childbirth , 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.
During pregnancy it is especially important to exercise your pelvic floor muscle as it has to support a greatly increased load at this time although some midwives does suggest moderation in the strength of exercise. A strong pelvic floor muscle can enable a woman to carry a baby more comfortably during pregnancy and will help both the mother and baby during labour and delivery. Stimulating blood flow in the pelvic area after childbirth, quickens recovery from any stitches or episiotomy (an incision made between the vagina and rectum to ease delivery of a baby). Women who have had Caesareans also need to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles as it is the gravitational pressure of pregnancy that weakens the muscles not the physical event of birth.
Sexual difficulties in women can occur because of a weak pelvic floor muscles or because a woman is not producing sufficient lubrication (the fluid produced in the vagina when a woman is sexually aroused). These difficulties include: vaginismus (an extremely uncomfortable spasm of the muscles surrounding the vagina), painful intercourse, and an inability to experience orgasm.
As women enter the menopausal years (35-54) their oestrogen levels decline. Oestrogen is a female hormone that readies the body for childbirth and is no longer produced in large amounts once menstruation ends. This decrease in oestrogen can cause changes in vaginal tissue and a decrease in vaginal lubrication. This loss of adequate lubrication can cause painful intercourse and increases the chance of injury and infection to the vagina or bladder.
Genital prolapse can result from a weak pelvic floor muscles or from stretching of the ligaments that support the uterus. Symptoms include: discomfort when bearing down to have a bowel movement; occasional, slight vaginal bleeding; vaginal infections; or loss of bladder or bowel control.
How does a healthy pelvic floor help?
Most doctors agree that exercising the pelvic floor muscles is the best way to protect and treat yourself against these ailments. Whilst exercise may not provide a complete solution for all women it is certainly a good first step and one that you can maintain with very little effort or disturbance to your daily routine.
However, there may be other factors at work such as infection, inflammation, injury, abnormalities of internal pelvic organs, or emotional factors. It is important for women experiencing any of the symptoms described to check with their health care professional to determine the cause and proper treatment of the problem.
Exercises can strengthen the pelvic floor muscle and improve blood circulation to the pelvic area. Increased blood circulation, combined with strengthened muscles, work together to improve and regain vitality.
For incontinence, exercise helps by strengthening the muscles around to rectal opening and the urethra, preventing the loss of body waste.
During pregnancy they help to support the baby and mother throughout the pregnancy, birth and post partum.
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. In addition, there are many nerve endings in the PC muscle. If it is firm, the pelvic floor muscle responds to stimulation by contracting (tightening). This increases pleasurable sensations.
Genital prolapse can be greatly helped as exercises help to improve all the muscles supporting the organs at risk.
The development of well-toned muscles has been shown to help 86% of women with symptoms due to weak pelvic floor muscles.
Every couple that has experienced the natural beauty of childbirth also knows the changes in the vaginal embrace after delivery. As ageing enters the picture, weakened muscles can affect the enjoyment and performance of both partners. Pelvic floor exercises can improve the vaginal embrace and restore youthful inner strength.
You have the option of choosing exercise to help relieve and even eliminate incontinence or improve the vaginal embrace instead of submitting to more complex surgical procedures. The following sections explain how you can practice the best forms of exercise.