Located within your pelvis, the so-called pelvic floor is made up of ligaments, connective tissue, and muscles that are vital in supporting your bladder and bowel. In women, the pelvic floor also supports the uterus and the vagina. A strong pelvic floor is also necessary for optimum sexual function.
A weakened pelvic floor can bring a lot of uncomfortable consequences, ranging from urine leakage to incontinence of both your bladder and bowels. Women may also experience a prolapse of the uterus or the bladder, painful conditions that may require surgery. Having a strong pelvic floor is also important in making sex more enjoyable.
In short, a strong pelvic floor can help you remain healthy at every stage of life.
What weakens the pelvic floor?
You might be familiar with collagen and the role this protein plays in keeping your skin firm and fresh, but it’s also important in keeping all of your pelvic muscles, ligaments, and tissue resilient and strong. As you age, your body naturally stops producing collagen. The slowdown in collagen production can rob your pelvic floor of its strength and resilience.
While the pelvic floor keeps a woman’s reproductive organs in place so they can function optimally, childbirth, especially multiple children in one pregnancy, is another factor in tearing and weakening those muscles and ligaments. Yet other factors that can damage your pelvic floor include certain surgeries, a chronic cough, obesity, and smoking.
What happens without a strong pelvic floor?
The consequences of having weakened or damaged pelvic muscles can be troublesome, if not severe, in several ways.
A lack of strong pelvic muscles, ligaments and other tissue can lead to a loss of bladder control and bowel incontinence, and women may develop bladder prolapse. A prolapse of this sort can be quite painful, and may require surgery. Symptoms include an urge to urinate, foloowed by poor urine flow, and bulging in the vaginal area. This can lead to frequent bladder infections.
A strong pelvic floor also protects against uterine prolapse, when the uterus loses support and can slip down or bulge out of the vagina. There a few ways to treat a uterine prolapse, the most serious being a hysterectomy.
The most obvious symptom of a uterine prolapse is pain. You may experience pain in your lower back, pain during intercourse, and pain while walking. A feeling of fullness and pressure in your pelvic region is another symptom of uterine prolapse.
For women of childbearing age, a strong pelvic floor can help during labor and delivery.
By maintaining the strength of your pelvic floor muscle, you keep blood vessels healthy, which improves blood flow to the pelvic tissue and nerve supply and promotes good vaginal health.
Add confidence to your lifestyle
A strong pelvic floor helps you feel more confident. For example, you can go out for a run without worrying about urine “leakage.” You can cough, laugh, and sneeze more confidently, too.
Not only will you save yourself embarrassment, but you’ll feel more free when you don’t have to worry about pads or adult diapers.
Pelvic floor dysfunction
When your pelvic floor becomes too weak to control, you may be diagnosed with pelvic floor dysfunction. You’ll be unable to contract and relax the muscles of your pelvic floor in order to control bladder and bowel function.
Pelvic floor dysfunction also causes you to contract your muscles during a bowel movement instead of relaxing them, which can make it difficult to have a bowel movement, leading to chronic constipation.
How to strengthen your pelvic floor
Obviously, the key to preventing any of the detrimental conditions associated with a weakened pelvic floor is to strengthen those muscles. Beginning around age 30, take steps to shore up your pelvic floor. How?
- Eat a diet rich in fiber to prevent straining during bowel movements
- Drink plenty of water to maintain urinary flow
- Lose weight, if you’re overweight
- Get active: Sit less, walk more
- Get help for a chronic cough
- Stop smoking.
You should already be practicing kegel exercises as often as you can. This is a proven technique for strengthening the pelvic floor.
Providers and treatment you can trust
For women who are concerned about the strength of their pelvic floor, we at the Chronic Pelvic Pain Center of Northern Virginia can help. We offer an integrated and customized approach to provide our patients with the best options with our multidisciplinary treatments and therapies.
Melissa Delgado, MD, FACOG, and certified nurse practitioner Wendy Roberts, CANP, along with the support staff at the Chronic Pelvic Pain Center of Northern Virginia, believe in a compassionate and caring approach for issues plaguing our patients, including a weakened pelvic floor. We are located in Annandale, Virginia. For more information on how we can help you, or to schedule an appointment, contact our office today.