The pelvic floor is often an under-appreciated but nevertheless very important part of our anatomy. It plays a vital role in keeping our low backs and rest of our bodies healthy and functioning well; it is directly linked to the role and importance of the “core” ie in core stability; it aids the functions of our internal organs and perhaps most well known is that it plays a huge role in bowel and bladder function especially after the effects of pregnancy and childbirth.
So what is the pelvic floor? It’s best thought of as a “sling” of muscles the covers the outlet of the pelvis. A little like a hammock, the contents of the abdomen lies on top of it and is supported by it. Being made of muscle it is contractile and therefore is a dynamic structure capable of movement. When it has good tone (the resting contraction of the muscles) it helps gentle close the structures that pass through it, most importantly the urethra and the lowest part of the large intestine – in other words the tubes that our pee and poo travel down to find their way out of the body. More on this later.
How is it important in low back pain and posture? As an osteopath this is of particular interest for me. The low back relies on a number of different structures and their health for good low back functioning. Some of the most significant are the shape and alignment of the lumbar spinal vertebrae, ligaments, intervertebral discs and the muscular support of the spinal muscles. The pelvic floor blends with the diaphragm and abdominal muscles (if core stability is good) making a balloon like container. When we move or lift this container acts like a support – a little like a weight lifters belt. These days people are more aware about the abdominal muscles and their importance of this but the pelvic floor is a vital component playing a very important part in supporting the spine and keeping it strong, stable and free from pain.
How is the pelvic floor important to general health? One way of looking at the abdomen (the area below the rib cage but above our thighs) is as a muscular container within which is our viscera (large and small intestines; kidneys; liver; spleen; pancreas etc). These organs all individually need to function well for the for the health of everything things else in our body and minds. For this to happen we need the usual things for health eg good diet; exercises; posture etc but also it needs a good blood and lymph supply and drainage. Again many things influence this but often forgot is movement. Movement at a the level of the body but also within the body. When we breathe well (more on this in another blog) our diaphragm descends and rises gently massaging the the organs, helping the gut to transport things along its length, aiding the blood supply and improving the lymphatic health. So where does the pelvic floor fit in? The rest of the muscular container is comprised of the abdominal muscles to the front, the spinal and posture muscles at the back and the pelvic floor underneath. As the diaphragm descends the overall function of the abdomen will be that much better if the pelvic floor and the rest of the container are functioning well. The pelvic floor will allow the abdominal organs to return back up receiving gentle compression and relaxation with every breath. This helps the blood and lymph flow and, you guessed it, improving all the organs functioning and health. As well as gently moving the spine with each breath and aiding its health in the same way.
How does the pelvic floor help bowel and bladder function? As I mentioned above the urethra (pee tube that leaves the bladder) and lowest part of the large intestine travel through the muscular pelvic floor. As well as supporting the bowel and bladder the muscles offer some ability to close off the tubes. If the floor is weak then it can lead to urinary incontinence, haemorrhoids and other pelvis disorders. These conditions are not uncommon but can be a source of embarrassment and inconvenience. Can anything be done?
Can I improve my pelvic floor? Yes! But as with all self help regimes it takes a bit of time, effort and self discipline.
Pelvic floor exercises:
Take a seat and imagine you’re sitting on the loo. Now imagine you’re having a pee and want to stop the flow. What muscles would you contract? If you’re unsure, next time you’re going to the loo then experiment with stopping the flow of wee. Contract these muscles and hold for a count of 10 seconds. Next squeeze and relax the muscles quickly five times. You can then see if you can isolate the muscles mid way back on the pelvic floor and repeat the same set of exercises. Then again for the muscles at the back of the pelvic floor. Over time try increasing the number of sets of exercises. Remember not to strain and if you get any pain then stop and let me know.
For more complicated exercises imagine you’re contracting diagonally across the pelvic floor (eg right of the pubic area to left of the tail bone area and vice versa).
Do these exercises at least once a day. When you get proficient the exercises can be done anywhere and in any position. If you have any questions then contact me at either my Ashburton or Newton Abbot Clinic.
You should feel the benefits in a couple of weeks. Good luck 🙂