Your pelvic floor explained and how to strengthen it

The other day I coughed and the unmentionable happened.  Except it shouldn’t be unmentionable, because if we don’t talk about it, we  don’t get the information that helps us deal with it.

Stress incontinence is when urine leaks out at times when your bladder is under pressure, such as when you cough or sometimes when you laugh out loud.  What I need to do is strengthen my pelvic floor muscles!

What is the pelvic floor?

Pelvic floor muscles are the layer of muscles that support the pelvic organs and span the bottom of the pelvis.  These muscles are an important part of your ‘core’.  Your core muscles are made up of the pelvic floor, the diaphragm and your deep abdominal front and back muscles.

The pelvic floor muscles stretch like a hammock from the tailbone to the pubic bone (front to back) and from one sitting bone to the other sitting bone (side to side). These muscles are normally firm and thick.  Like a trampoline the pelvic floor muscle can move up and down.

Men have a pelvic floor too although many don’t realise that! The diagram shows the position of the pelvic floor in women.  As you can see the bladder, uterus and bowel all pass through the pelvic floor muscle. 

When the pelvic floor muscles are contracted (think of holding in wind), the internal organs are lifted and the sphincters tighten the openings of the vagina, anus and urethra. Relaxing the pelvic floor allows passage of urine, faeces and wind.

Pelvic floor muscles are also important for sexual function in both men and women. 

There are a number of reasons why the pelvic floor muscles become loose, these include:

  • Pregnancy and childbirth

  • Straining on the toilet/constipation

  • Continuous coughing

  • Heavy lifting

  • High impact exercise

  • Getting older

  • Being overweight

How can you strengthen your pelvic floor?

Like other muscles in your body the pelvic floor can be trained and strengthened.

This 5 minute video shows you how to locate your pelvic floor muscles and gives you a simple exercise your can do at various points in your day (without anyone else knowing you’re doing it!).  In Pilates we also have an exercise specifically aimed at the pelvic floor called the elevator. 

When to seek help

If you are concerned about your pelvic floor or have any of the following symptoms you should see your GP.

  • needing to urgently or frequently go to the toilet to pass urine or bowel motions

  • accidental leakage of urine, bowel motions or wind on a regular basis

  • difficulty going to the toilet

  • vaginal heaviness or a bulge, or

  • pain in the bladder, bowel or in your back near the pelvic floor area when exercising the pelvic floor or during intercourse.

You might also be interested in:

Every day is a good day for Pilates

Pilates: 5 things you need to know