Pelvic Floor Muscles
To address kegel exercises I must first talk about your pelvic floor muscles. If Kegel exercises are designed to address a weakness in the pelvic floor, you are probably wondering what your pelvic floor is.
Your pelvic floor is very important because it supports your intestines, bladder, uterus, organs and maintains urinary and anal continence via sphincters. (1) Weakness can cause all sorts of issues including peeing yourself a little bit to a whole lot and pelvic organ prolapse: When your organs drop into your vaginal canal at varying degrees. They even impact orgasm quality and control of your rectum.
So what are your pelvic floor muscles? Here they are!
Why do we need our pelvic floor?
If you’ve ever looked at a pelvis model, you quickly would notice the large opening in the bottom. The pelvic floor creates a support system spanning across this opening that supports your organs and internal structure. So simply, the pelvic floor closes up this opening in a way that helps your uterus, bladder, urethra, vagina, rectum, intestines etc. function and stay in place.
Without the pelvic floor, your organs would fall through this large opening below.
Below you can see how some of the muscles create the sling
Look at that diagram. Seeing it you can imagine how weakness in these muscles could cause urinary incontinence, rectal issues including holding in gas, prolapse and orgasm quality right? What an intricate maze of important muscles & connective tissue.
Keep in mind that the Pelvic Floor or Pelvic Diaphragm does not work alone. There are other muscles that aid in strength and continence but for the purpose of this article we’re going to focus on the primary muscles related to dysfunction:
- Levator ani – a paired muscle that forms the hammock-like sling that goes from the tailbone to the pubis. The openings in this muscle contain where the urethra and vagina pass. *Where pelvic organ prolapse occurs. Squeezes the vagina, urethra and rectum closed (2) Made up of the Puborectalis, Pubococcygeus and Iliococcygeus.
- provides a sling for the rectum
- Relaxation occurs so you can poop
- Main part of levator ani (2)
- Stretches from the pubic bone to the tailbone creating the floor of the pelvic cavity. (1)
- Controls urine flow and contracts during orgasm. (1)
- A strong muscle is linked to urinary continence and positioning of baby’s head during labor. (1)
- Can also develop tension and spasm often referred to as pelvic pain disorder (2)
- Forms a horizontal sheet that or shelf that goes across the opening of the back area of the pelvis. (2)
- Coccygeus muscle
- Triangle shaped muscle providing basic support as part of the pelvic floor.
- Associated connective tissue & other structures which create the pelvic sling.
- Fascia, ligaments and connective tissue.
- Deep perineal pouch.
The pelvic floor separates the pelvic cavity above, with all of the organs from the perineal region which is between your pubic bone and tail bone.
Pelvic floor weakness
“Pelvic floor weakness is often caused by childbirth, lack of use, decrease in the hormone estrogen, aging, surgery and injury.” (3)
Dysfunction can be continence related, leaking a bit with sneezing or coughing, leaking when jumping or running, not quite making it after a strong urge, all the way through full bladder incontinence and rectal incontinence. In addition to the continence benefits, many people find the strengthening of these muscles related to sexual function and pleasure.
(Please pin image below)
How the pelvic floor gets weak
So now you’re wondering, how does it get weak in the first place? For many women, pregnancy and birth lead to weakness in the pelvic floor. For others, it’s a general weakness from overall deconditioning, hormonal changes from pregnancy or menopause, neurological injury or disorder, physical or surgical injury. Maybe you go in for an appendix removal and something goes wrong.
You can be a very strong person with a very weak pelvic support system.
How pregnancy relates to pelvic floor weakness
Hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy and those designed to relax the pelvic anatomy for childbirth. Physical changes including increased weight in your abdomen from the growing uterus, baby, amniotic fluid and placenta. In addition, many women have an increased body mass index from weight gain that can contribute. (4) Both women who deliver vaginally and via c-section can experience weakness.
Is all pelvic floor dysfunction treatable
The short answer is no. Some issues require surgery or medication, maybe a combination of both. However, many persons find relief from pelvic floor strengthening. (1) I personally don’t know what my odds are for strengthening and increasing function, but I’m certainly going to find out!
As always, I love your input and thoughts.
Disclosure: This information is not designed to diagnose or treat anyone. It’s informational in nature. Please consult your health care professional for individual diagnoses and recommendations.
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- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelvic_floor (obtained 8/29 2017)
- Newman, D.K., & Wein, A.J. (2009). Managing and Treating Urinary Incontinence (2nd ed., p. 71) Baltimore, MD: Health Professions Press, INC.
- Newman, D.K., & Wein, A.J. (2009). Managing and Treating Urinary Incontinence (2nd ed., p. 70) Baltimore, MD: Health Professions Press, INC.
, , , , and Stanton S. Springer. (2008) Pelvic Floor Re-education: Principles and Practice (2nd ed., p.36) Springer London Ltd, United Kingdom