We all like to work on our core fitness, doing planks and crunches, thinking that we are doing everything right. Unfortunately, most women aren’t aware that the core also includes the pelvic floor, a group of muscles that are responsible for a variety of important functions in the body.
The pelvic floor is made up of muscles and connective tissue in the base of the pelvis. These structures form a sling to support the internal organs, vagina and rectum. The pelvic floor helps to ensure that urine or fecal matter is not leaking when it shouldn’t be, and ensures that the organs within the pelvis stay in their proper place. Pelvic floor dysfunctions occur when the muscles of the pelvic floor become weak or are injured. Symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction include urinary incontinence (bladder leakage), fecal incontinence (stool leakage), and pelvic organ prolapse (internal organs migrate into the space maintained by the vagina and/or rectum).
According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), nearly 1 out of 4 women in the United States are living with one or more pelvic floor disorders. Additionally, it has been found that the likelihood of developing a pelvic floor disorder increases with age:
- 40% of women aged 60-79 experience a pelvic floor dysfunction
- 50% of women age 80 and older experience pelvic floor dysfunction
Female bladder leakage is a common condition that, unfortunately, is often considered “normal” due to prevalence. What women don’t always recognize is that without treatment, these conditions often worsen as we age.
Stress Urinary Incontinence is a form of bladder leakage that includes symptoms such as leakage when coughing, laughing or exercising. This type of leakage is usually due to weakness in the pelvic floor muscles, which can be common following pregnancy and childbirth, but should not continue past 6-12 weeks post-partum.
Urge Urinary Incontinence is a form of bladder leakage that is characterized by an urgent need to go to the restroom, or urinary frequency (using the restroom multiple times in an hour or overnight). This type of leakage occurs when the bladder contracts and expels urine inappropriately and may or may not be related to pelvic floor weakness.
Fecal Incontinence is a term used to describe the leakage of bowel contents (fecal matter) from the rectum and is also often related to pelvic floor weakness or injury. These symptoms can also occur following childbirth, especially if there was vaginal or rectal tearing involved.
Pelvic Organ Prolapse refers to a condition in which the organs within the pelvis (bladder, uterus, and/or bowel) collapse into the vagina, often due to weakness in the muscles and structures within the pelvic floor. Symptoms of prolapse can include a sense of fullness in the vagina, low back pain, painful intercourse and bladder leakage.
If you experience any of these symptoms, all hope is not lost!
Conservative treatments are available for these conditions and they go beyond just “doing your Kegels”. Kegels are a type of pelvic floor exercise named for Dr. Arnold Kegel in the 1940s. Dr. Kegel realized that contracting the pelvic floor could build strength and improve pelvic floor conditions in women. Since that time, the “Kegel” has been a staple exercises when it comes to the pelvic floor. Unfortunately, most women aren’t able to do these exercises correctly without proper training and most pelvic floor dysfunction requires a more comprehensive approach to treatment.
Pelvic floor rehabilitation is a specific type of therapy that focuses on the muscles and tissue within the pelvic floor, along with those structures’ interaction with the rest of the body. Treatment is focused on addressing muscular weakness and control, connective tissue dysfunction and integration of the pelvic floor into the patient’s overall posture and daily activities.
It is important for women to understand that no amount of bladder leakage, fecal loss or pelvic prolapse should be considered “normal” and isn’t a condition that should be ignored. If you have concerns for your pelvic floor health, talk to your doctor to find out if a referral to Vita Physical Therapy is right for you.
By : Colleen Baughn
1. Nygaard I, Barber MD, Burgio KL, et al. Prevalence of Symptomatic Pelvic Floor Disorders in US Women. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association. 2008; 300(11):1311-1316. doi:10.1001/jama.300.11.1311.