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Pelvic Floor Exercises and Self Care Tips

Diagram of Female Pelvic Floor

Pelvic floor exercises can help relieve chronic pelvic pain and dysfunctions that range from generalized pain to irritable bowel syndrome to incontinence to discomfort during sex for both women and men.

What Is the Pelvic Floor?

The pelvic floor is all the muscles, nerves, connective tissue, and ligaments attached to the front, back, and sides of the pelvis, from the pubic bone in the front of the body to the tailbone in the back. The pelvic floor is like a sling that supports all the pelvic organs, including the bladder, colon, and uterus in women or prostate in men.

The pelvic floor has three main functions:

  • Supports the organs in your pelvis and lower abdomen

  • Controls the urge to urinate or defecate by sending signals to the bladder and colon and opening and closing the urethra and anal canal

  • Contracts muscles in response to sexual arousal and enhances sexual enjoyment.

Unfortunately, such a complex structure is prone to dysfunction in both women and men, though women more frequently have problems. Many factors can compromise the function of the pelvic floor, including inflammation, infection, and trauma (injury, surgery, abuse, childbirth). Also, a variety of mechanical conditions ranging from weak muscles to spinal and pelvic misalignment.

Weak muscles are common. Other factors that place pressure on the pelvic floor and can weaken it include excess weight, ongoing constipation, and a chronic cough.

Pelvic floor disorders include pelvic pain, endometriosis, prostatitis, incontinence, irritable bowel syndrome, and uncomfortable sex, urination, or bowel movements.

Exercises and Self Care For the Pelvic Floor

For self care of pelvic pain problems, I recommend Heal Pelvic Pain: The Proven Stretching, Strengthening, and Nutrition Program by Amy Stein, a physical therapist who specializes in manual therapies for pelvic floor disorders and pain.

Stein offers suggestions for exercise, nutrition, and self-care of pelvic floor problems. Almost anyone can use these natural healing techniques at home to address the underlying causes of pelvic pain and dysfunction.

Stein's self-treatment program for pelvic dysfunction begins with 11 "letting go" pelvic floor exercises designed to release tension. Why? Tensing muscles is an unconscious and automatic reaction to stress. Pelvic floor muscles often become chronically tense, making them weak, which leads to pain, which leads to more tension and more pain, creating a vicious cycle.

Stein recommends adding strengthening pelvic floor exercises when pain has decreased by at least 50 percent and other symptoms have improved. Kegel exercises, in a number of different variations, are the basis of strengthening the pelvic floor.

Although many health sources promote Kegel exercises as "the way" to deal with problems, Stein believes that strengthening muscles before releasing tension is counterproductive. First relaxing the muscles makes the strengthening exercises more effective.

Basically, a Kegel exercise is a subtle contracting and releasing of the muscles of the pelvic floor. It’s important to learn the correct technique and avoid tensing the large surrounding muscles of the buttocks, thighs, and abdomen. Tensing the wrong muscles makes the Kegel exercises ineffective.

Kegels for WomenKegels for Men

Stein also teaches simple self-massage techniques to help you massage away the tension in your pelvic floor and offers nutritional guidelines to promote healing of pelvic floor problems. If you deal with pain, incontinence, or other pelvic problems, Stein's book offers an alternative to medications that only cover up symptoms.

Two-Part Video: A Urologist Talks About Muscles and Pelvic Floor Exercises

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Photo Credit: SportEX Journals CC