This post originally was published here – Mind Body Families – a blog and online resource for all things family in London.  
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There is a region of the body that seems to be shrouded in mystery, secrecy, cover-ups and confusion.  No…I’m not talking about a body conspiracy theory here. I’m talking about your pelvic floor.

Chances are that you’ve heard the term “pelvic floor” before but that you really have no idea what it is all about. Today I want to demystify the pelvic floor and help shed some light on why a healthy and functional pelvic floor is important for everyone.  Here are 5 things you didn’t know about your pelvic floor:

1 – It is just like any other muscle group in the body.

All muscles can contract and relax, can be short or long, tight or lax. They all have an ideal resting length. They can change in tissue quality and texture, they can be sore or have knots in them.  They are subject to joint position, total body alignment, fascial integrity, pressure gradients, and “stuff” going on in adjacent and even distant regions of the body.  They are controlled by the brain and nervous system. The pelvic floor is no exception.  When framed this way, it is really not that mysterious at all.  A healthy pelvic floor is one that’s positioned well, flexible and compliant, strong throughout full range of motion, has good muscle tone and texture, and works synchronously with other sister muscles .  Many pelvic problems in men and women are the result of muscles that are either too lax and stretched, too tight and immobile, or not making the right neural connection.

2 – It is actually really unique and can do some cool things that other muscles can’t.

This is due to its orientation and location in the body. The muscles that make up the pelvic floor act like a sling or hammock at the bottom of the pelvis.  I like the image of a trampoline.  When the muscles lengthen and contract, they move from a basin to a dome position. They support the pelvic organs, they help create inner stability for movement, they act as a sump pump, they manage pressures coming from above, they have to open to allow a baby to pass through, they house sphincters that control bowel and bladder function, and they make sex feel really great! Do you really think your biceps could do all of that?!

3 – It is an integral part of your inner core muscles.

When you think of your “core” – most people visualize the dude with the glistening 6 pack at the gym.  The core is actually much more than that.  It is a deep internal set of muscles which work synergistically to provide stability and control over your every movement.   The muscles of the core are anticipatory – which means they activate at the very thought of movement. The pelvic floor muscles are one part of that system of inner core muscles.  If you imagine a canister, the bottom of that canister is the pelvic floor.  The top is the diaphragm (your primary breathing muscle), the front is the transversus abdominis, and the back is the deep multifidus muscle.  These four muscles work together like gears in a machine.  If one gear stops working, then the entire machine is dysfunctional.

When we treat pelvic floor issues, we must look at the entire pelvis and the inner core and the context of the whole body.  Incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, diastasis recti, back pain, core weakness…these are all different manifestations of a dys-synergistic core and perhaps even more distant drivers for dysfunction.

4 – Kegels are not for everyone.

You may have heard it said to “just do your kegels”.  I’m here to tell you to stop.  Seriously.  Stop until you get it checked out.  First of all, kegels are meant to improve the activation, position, tone, and strength of the pelvic floor muscles. Remember from fact number 1 that muscles can short and tight or long and lax.  If the pelvic floor muscles are short, tight, hypertonic, not relaxing, or are sitting in a high position – then does it make sense to do kegels which are meant to lift the pelvic floor?   No, it doesn’t.  Some women and men have pelvic floors that must first release, let go, lengthen and become more compliant.  Kegels are not the answer in these cases.  Kegels may in fact worsen symptoms.

The other reason to stop doing kegels until you get checked is that most women do them completely wrong!  Clenching your butt or abs, holding your breath, sucking in to kegel, bearing down inadvertently….these are all incorrect and inefficient ways people attempt to kegel – and it is completely pointless. This is why you may have “tried those kegels” and concluded “they don’t work”.  When I doubt, have it checked out.

5- If you are pregnant or have had a baby, please get that pelvic floor checked!

There is myth out there that “this is how your body is now that you’ve had a baby”. To that I say NO WAY! Pelvic floor dysfunction may be common but it is NOT healthy, NOT functional, NOT optimal, and it WILL progressively worsen. There is a better way and it is totally attainable if you know what to do. You should get checked if you deal with the following:

  • Leaking urine, stool, or gas when you laugh, cough, sneeze, run, jump, exercise…
  • Frequent urination, urgency, not making it to the bathroom in time
  • Painful scar tissue from a c-section or from perineal tearing
  • Ongoing pain with sex, using a tampon, or from a pelvic examination
  • Burning, discomfort, tenderness, or similar symptoms in the vulvo-vaginal region
  • Separation of your abdominal muscles or feeling weak in the core
  • Prolapse or a descent of a pelvic organ – a protrusion toward the vaginal opening
  • Pain in your groin or tailbone area during or after pregnancy

These things often do not get better on their own but they can be healed beautifully for the long haul with some basic pelvic health care.    Don’t feel shame if you have embarrassing issues “down there” – but know that there is hope and help is available.

So there you have it – five facts that you now know about your pelvic floor! Please pass it on and share the knowledge!