The pelvic floor muscles are responsible for supporting our organs from the bladder to the anus and all in between.
They’re a great big sling of muscles that sit between the coccyx — or tailbone — all the way to the front near the bladder and also extend out to the side of the pelvis. It’s really important to make sure your pelvic muscles are strong enough to hold you in place, but not too tight that they cause you pain.
So, if these muscles are so important, what kind of practical things can each of us do everyday to ensure our pelvic floor muscles are ship-shape?
First of all, there is an easy test you can do to work out how strong your muscles are.
The Flow Stop
“If you sit on the toilet and you are about halfway mid-stream, and you are trying to cut off mid-stream. If you are able to do that then yes, you have got a correct pelvic floor muscle contraction,” pelvic floor physiotherapist Sherin Jarvis told HuffPost Australia.
Do this once a month as an easy way to test how your pelvic floor is fairing.
Four Easy Tips For Stronger Pelvic Floor Muscles
1. Squeeze The Anus
“The muscles go all the way through to the coccyx and the muscle is actually pierced by the urethra and then the vagina and then the rectum and the anus go through the muscle,” Jarvis said.
“If you don’t squeeze in the anus then you have ignored half of the muscle’s power.”
2. Get Both Locations Working
“The muscle has a dual action. It squeezes and it lifts up and forward — so not in the direction of [the] head but up and behind [the] pubic bone and behind your belly button. Squeeze everything closed and then up and forward.”
“It’s that action that helps you stay dry when you are coughing and sneezing,” Jarvis explained.
3. Use The Lower Abdominal Muscles
You know, the ones between your belly button and your pubic bone.These act as helper muscles to the pelvic floor, according to Jarvis. Use these to help the upward lift of the exercise rather than as the driver of the lift. Activate the pelvic floor first, then the lower abdominal muscles to make sure the pelvic floor is getting all the benefit.
4. Breathe Normally
It might sound like a cliche, but it’s important.
“You must be able to breathe normally when you do a squeeze and lift otherwise you will push down,” Jarvis said.
The pushing down will make the exercise less effective.
One of Jarvis’ top tips when doing the exercises is to incorporate them into your daily routine, so you don’t forget to do them.
“Maybe when you get on the bus or the train before you get your phone out and you look at your messages and Facebook, maybe you could do a set of pelvic floor exercises in the morning and then maybe the same at night,” Jarvis told HuffPost Australia.
“[Do that] Monday to Friday and forget about the weekend.
“If you have triggers to remember to do the exercise, it is easier then to go, ‘That’s right, every time I get on the bus’ — make it a routine so you remember to do them.”
Having proper pelvic floor function is important for both men and women and there is more to that than just organ support.
Urologist Dr Vincent Tse says that looking after the pelvic floor ensures avoiding pain and uncomfortable complications.
“Their function in women is to support the pelvic organs such as the bladder, uterus, vagina and the rectum,” Tse told HuffPost Australia.
“The other important feature of the pelvic floor muscles in women is that they can prevent incontinence. The type that is associated with pelvic floor is stress incontinence and that’s not stress that is created with psychological stress — it is activity stress like coughing [or] sneezing.
“If we have strong pelvic floor muscles when you want to cough or sneeze and or pick up something there is actually a reflex that is built into that muscle that contract a split second before.”
Tse says that pelvic floor strength is important for men who are treated for prostate cancer.
“Men also need good pelvic floor muscles mainly because there is a select group of men that develop prostate cancer when they get older,” Tse said.
“One treatment … for prostate cancer is what we call radical prostatectomy which is the total removal of the prostate. Another type of treatment is radiation therapy and both of these treatments can lead to weakened pelvic floor muscles.”
In the case of men who develop prostate cancer, they will be introduced to pelvic floor exercises before they undergo the surgery and a strong set of pelvic floor muscles ensures an easier recovery.
Ensuring your pelvic floor is in shape can reduce the chance of developing uncomfortable problems and generally improve your quality of life.
With pelvic floor, commitment to exercises is the key to prevention.