As lockdown continues, and we face another few months of life without access to our traditional gym settings, I have been inundated with questions regarding training strategies that can be implemented at home.
Believe it or not, pelvic floor issues are far more common than you may think. Symptoms can range from urinary frequency /urgency to stress incontinence and significantly impact day-to-day activities. Around 1 in 3 women will experience pelvic floor dysfunction at some point in their lives, with the average woman experiencing these for seven years before seeking assistance.
As a Pilates Instructor and pelvic floor health coach, I am dedicated to helping others overcome both stigma and fear and instead, through positive movement and knowledge replace these with confidence and empowerment.
The pelvic floor works as a muscular trampoline, which supports the bowel and bladder. It sits between your coccyx (tailbone) and pubic bone within the pelvis.
This muscular hammock also supports the uterus and vagina and is essential when it comes to our urinary health.
With any muscle, we run the risk of it becoming too weak or too tight and if this happens, the fine balance can result in unwanted side effects. It is completely normal during pregnancy and childbirth for a woman’s pelvic floor to become stretched or weakened. Equally, in some cases where birth trauma can lead to scarring, the pelvic floor can become too tight.
There are a number of other ways, aside from childbirth that may lead to pelvic floor dysfunction. These can include:
Pelvic dysfunction can appear in a number of different symptoms. These include but are not limited to:
All of these symptoms, whether experienced on their own or as a group can have profound effects on our emotional and mental health and affect activities of daily life. So, understanding what you can do to help support your pelvic health is a great way of reducing possible symptoms and aiding recovery.
Thankfully there are a number of ways in which you can help alleviate symptoms.
You may have heard the term ‘pelvic floor exercises’ but perhaps aren’t sure what this actually means or how you do them. If this sounds familiar to you, don’t worry, you are not alone.
When it comes to pelvic floor exercises, we are often just told to draw up but with no real direction. The chunk of our pelvic floor sits towards our back passage so starting thereby imagining that you are trying to not pass wind and then drawing up towards the front passage will help you isolate the correct muscles. Ensuring that you are not squeezing your buttocks, tensing your thighs or drawing in your abdominals.
Attending a pelvic floor awareness course will give you the practical knowledge needed to enable you to execute a pelvic floor contraction correctly whilst educating you on the purpose of the pelvic floor and the vital role that it plays within our bodies.
The great thing about pelvic floor exercises is that you can practice them at most points during your day, without anyone else knowing you are actually doing them. For example, from brushing your teeth or sitting on your sofa watching TV, or whilst on the train getting to work. The more you practice the easier this can become. It is important to remember that like all muscles within your body, the more you exercise them, the stronger they will become.
Results are not always immediate, like with any muscle tone this can take a while to develop, however starting is the first step in gaining better confidence and breaking free of symptoms that have been holding you back.
Did you know you can benefit from some great movement through Pilates to help strengthen your core and pelvic floor?
Pilates is fast becoming seen as an effective way to support and strengthen even the weakest of pelvic floors, using a range of simple and repetitive exercises with enthesis on the foundation muscles (abdominals and pelvic floor), which will also help develop endurance and coordination.
Exercising every day is a great way of building up gently and not placing too much stress or demand on your muscles. Remember that securing optimal pelvic health is not a sprint, so building your commitment each day will help you reap all the rewards that come with it, in a sustainable way.
There are a number of other simple things you can do to help gain confidence when it comes to your pelvic floor such as:
Breathing – On average we breathe in and out around 22,000 times per day, and how we breathe can affect our pelvic floor. Every time we inhale, our diaphragm moves in a downward direction, into your upper abdomen. This causes an increase in pressure in your abdomen, which can slightly stretch the pelvic floor. This is subsequently released when you exhale.
Adopting what some call ‘belly breathing’ or ‘abdominal breathing’ is an easy way of reducing unnecessary strain. This is where you inhale through the nose and feel your tummy expand; as you exhale it should return to its normal resting position.
Being mindful about our breath is incredibly important and is something that we can easily control to our pelvic floor’s advantage. An added bonus is that belly or abdominal breathing can also help reduce stress whilst increasing our oxygen and blood supply to the body.
Posture – Our posture supports the alignment of our bones and joints whilst allowing our muscles to work and move. The way in which we sit and stand can impact your pelvic floor. Therefore, adopting both a better sitting and standing posture can alleviate any undue stress on your pelvic floor. Tips such as balancing your weight evenly, relaxing your head and neck whilst lengthening the spine can all work in positive ways to support your pelvic floor.
Food and Drink – Believe it or not, how you nourish your body can affect your pelvic floor through overstimulation of the bladder or bowel.
Consuming foods that aid digestion whilst also reducing our caffeine intake are great ways to promote pelvic health. Swapping out fizzy drinks for water and keeping well hydrated are surefire ways to help reduce aggravation and help stimulate healthier habits.
It’s safe to say that your pelvic floor is silently working every day and if we can help alleviate undue stress on it, all of these little changes can add up to a big difference.
Interested in learning more about the author? Read more about Charlotte Fitzgerald founder of Pilates & Pelvic Floor Health: For a Better You or find out more about pelvic floor health courses offered by Charlotte.
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