The pelvic floor—a complex web of muscles, ligaments, and tissues—is often overlooked despite its crucial role in maintaining our overall well-being. Positioned like a hammock at the base of the pelvis, these muscles provide essential support to the bladder, bowel, and uterus, as well as our entire core. Understanding the intricate nature of these muscles and their functions is pivotal in comprehending the significance of pelvic floor health and the role pelvic floor physiotherapy can play in your overall well-being and rehabilitation.
Anatomy of the Pelvic Floor Muscles:
The pelvic floor muscles consist of several layers, intricately interwoven to form a sturdy yet flexible support system. They can be broadly categorized into superficial and deep muscles. The superficial layer comprises the bulbospongiosus, ischiocavernosus, and transverse perineal muscles, while the deep layer includes the pubococcygeus, puborectalis, and iliococcygeus muscles. Alike any other muscle group, they serve a number of important functions in the body and are susceptible to developing impairments or injury that affect our daily lives. Although slight variations exist, both men and women share the majority of this muscular anatomy.
Functions of the Pelvic Floor Muscles:
- Support and Stability:
The primary role of these muscles is to provide structural support to the pelvic organs and abdomen. They act as a sling, keeping the bladder, uterus, and rectum in their proper positions, preventing prolapse and supporting their optimal function. As the floor of the abdomen, these muscles are crucial in creating and maintaining stability throughout our entire core, hips, and back.
- Sphincteric Control:
The pelvic floor muscles are crucial for maintaining continence. They work in tandem with the urinary and anal sphincters, allowing voluntary control over urination, defecation, and passing gas. Continence is created and maintained by both involuntary actions of our urinary and anal sphincters not under out active control, but is also maintained by our pelvic floor muscle group that can be under our active control with strengthening and appropriate motor control, especially during times of increased pressure in our abdomen (ie. Jumping, running, laughing, sneezing, high athletic activities, lifting).
- Sexual Function:
These muscles play a pivotal role in sexual function. They aid in arousal and orgasm by increasing blood flow to the genitals and contributing to the rhythmic contractions during orgasm. The ability to relax these muscles appropriately and have good ‘resting tone’ aids our sexual health and prevents pain during activities.
- Core Stability:
The pelvic floor muscles are an integral part of the body’s core stability system, working in coordination with the abdominal and back muscles to provide stability and support for the spine and pelvis. An effective pelvic floor serves as a foundation for our entire lumbosacral area.
- Posture and Movement:
They contribute to maintaining proper posture of the pelvic and lumbar spine. Good positioning down low sets up your upper back and neck to optimize posture in tandem.
Importance of Pelvic Floor Health:
When these muscles are weakened or dysfunctional, it can lead to a range of issues:
- Pelvic Organ Prolapse: Weakened muscles can cause the pelvic organs to descend, leading to discomfort, a feeling of pressure, or even protrusion into the vaginal canal.
- Urinary and Fecal Incontinence: Dysfunction in these muscles can result in involuntary leakage of urine, stool or gas, affecting one’s quality of life.
- Sexual Dysfunction: Weak or tense pelvic floor muscles can impact sexual function, leading to pain or difficulty during intercourse.
- Lower Back Pain: Poor pelvic floor muscle function can contribute to lower back pain and instability.
Exercises to Optimize the Pelvic Floor Muscles:
Maintaining the health and strength of these muscles is crucial. Kegel exercises, which involve contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, are widely recommended for both men and women. These exercises improve muscle tone and control, enhancing bladder and bowel function while also supporting sexual health.
However, while Kegel exercises are ‘hot topics’ online about maintaining the health of your pelvic floor, often times the pelvic floor is too tight. In this scenario, kegels may exacerbate symptoms and the more effective treatment is to learn how to relax and lengthen the pelvic floor to reduce tone and tension. Diaphragmatic breathing and guided stretching around the pelvic girdle are helpful in this scenario!
Our trained team of pelvic floor specialists can help you determine which areas of focus will be most beneficial and personalize your rehabilitation to be the most effective and targeted to your unique symptoms and needs.
The pelvic floor muscles, often underestimated, play a vital role in maintaining multiple facets of our health. Understanding their anatomy, functions, and the implications of their dysfunction underscores the importance of caring for these muscles. Incorporating exercises, seeking guidance from healthcare professionals, and prioritizing pelvic floor health are fundamental steps towards ensuring their optimal function and our overall well-being. Taking care of these muscles is an investment in a healthier, more comfortable, and fulfilling life.