Pelvic Floor Dysfunction and a Hypertonic Pelvic Floor
by Courtney Virden
Pelvic floor exercises sometimes referred to as pelvic floor therapy, are essential for pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) and maintaining optimal pelvic floor (PF) health. Many individuals suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction without realizing it or knowing how to address the issue. A hypertonic pelvic floor is an issue with many and too many are suffering in silence.
Let's explore the importance of the PF, the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, and how to relax and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles through targeted exercises. We will also discuss the benefits of using an exercise ball during pregnancy, prenatal core exercises, and the role of pelvic floor physical therapy. So let's dive in and learn more about the PF and how to keep it in top shape.
The Pelvic Muscles Are the Base of Your Core
The PF is a group of muscles that form the base of the core and provide support for the organs within the pelvis. Like the foundation of a house, a strong and stable PF is essential. It helps maintain good posture, sexual enjoyment, and overall confidence. By understanding how the PF functions and learning how to improve its condition, you can optimize its performance and enhance your overall well-being.
Getting to Know the Structure of the Pelvic Floor
In women, the PF consists of three layers: the superficial perineal muscles, the deep perineal pouch, and the pelvic diaphragm. The pelvic floor attaches to the pubic bone at the front and the coccyx (tailbone) at the rear. This creates a hammock-like structure that supports the pelvic organs.
Additionally, the PF is composed of a complex network of nerves and fascia. It plays a crucial role in orgasm capability and hip and spinal stability. Its coordination with the diaphragm for diaphragmatic breathing, bladder, and bowel movements, and provides support during pregnancy.
Identifying Common Symptoms of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
Ideally, the PF should be strong, toned, and responsive. However, both men and women commonly experience pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD), which can manifest in various ways. The hypertonic pelvic floor refers to excessively tight and rigid PF muscles. While some women have an overstretched and loose PF, others have a combination of tight and overstretched areas. With tight pelvic floor muscles learning how to relax pelvic floor muscles is critical.
PFD encompasses a wide range of symptoms. Pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms associated with a hypertonic pelvic floor include tailbone pain, lower back pain, incontinence, painful intercourse, constipation, straining or incomplete bowel movements, hip pain, and pelvic pain. On the other hand, symptoms of a tight, overstretched, or a combination of both pelvic floor muscles include incontinence (both bladder and bowel), prolapse, back pain, reduced vaginal sensation, vaginal flatulence (queefing), difficulty retaining tampons, and recurrent urinary tract infections.
Understanding the Impact of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
Pelvic floor dysfunction can have a significant impact on daily life and overall well-being. It can lead to stress incontinence (both urinary and fecal) and urge incontinence. Also, low back pain, pelvic organ prolapse, constipation, pelvic or groin pain, erectile dysfunction, low libido, painful intercourse for women, and difficulty achieving orgasm. Various factors can disrupt the length-tension relationship of the PF. This includes obesity, pregnancy and childbirth, improper lifting techniques, pelvic surgeries, nerve damage, pelvic radiation therapy, trauma, and stress.
Although the symptoms of PFD can be distressing, there is hope for most individuals. With proper exercises and, in some cases, the assistance of a physical therapist, many people can significantly reduce or eliminate these problems that have been affecting their quality of life. Pregnant women's pelvic muscles have a tremendous amount of pressure placed on them throughout the pregnancy. This is why some recommend prenatal pelvic floor physical therapy or an exercise program. Using a birthing ball is my favorite when it comes to PF exercises. A simple exercise is sitting on the ball, knees bent 90 degrees, and gently rocking side to side using the PF to initiate can help stretch and relax the PF. Though most women will want full pelvic floor programs for optimal results.
Understanding Hypertonic Pelvic Floor and its Impact
Contrary to popular belief, a tight PF is often weak rather than strong. Just like a tight hamstring is not necessarily a strong one, excessive tension in the PF muscles can hinder their proper functioning. When our bodies experience trauma, poor movement patterns, or injury, certain areas may become excessively tight and rigid while others become overstretched. This disrupts the harmonious interaction between the muscles and fascia throughout the body, including the PF. As a result, the pelvic floor may fail to function optimally, leading to further dysfunction as other muscles compensate for the imbalance.
Recognizing the body and how it is all connected is crucial for achieving optimal bodily function. Hypertonic pelvic floor exercises help when the PF muscles are too tight. Our programs are designed using the stability ball and focus on multiple planes of movement and eccentric and concentric contractions. So no matter the tone of your PF, your issues will be addressed.
The Role of Breathing and Emotions in Pelvic Floor Function
Breathing and emotional state also influence the performance of the PF. Proper PF function involves a slight descent during inhalation and ascent during exhalation, similar to a trampoline. Shallow breathing can prevent the PF from fully lengthening and relaxing as intended, potentially leading to excessive tightness.
Additionally, many individuals store emotions in their PF muscles. Even subtle triggers, such as watching a scary movie, can unconsciously cause the tightening of these muscles. Chronic stress can also contribute to excessive tension within the PF. Recognizing and addressing these emotional factors is crucial for achieving optimal PF function. While Kegel exercises are often recommended, they can exacerbate issues by adding more tension to an already tight pelvic floor. Instead, exercises that restore both strength and flexibility are preferred. Furthermore, consulting a qualified therapist can significantly improve emotional aspects related to sexual dysfunction.
The Impact of Pregnancy and Childbirth on the Pelvic Floor
Pregnancy and childbirth place significant stress on a woman's PF. As early as six weeks into pregnancy, the weight of the fetus exerts excessive pressure on the PF. As the baby grows, the mother's weight increases, further straining the PF, which may lack sufficient strength and tone to provide adequate support. Vaginal childbirth involves stretching and realignment of the pelvic floor muscles to accommodate the passage of the baby. While some women have a PF that recovers well after birth, many experience issues for the first time.
Common post-pregnancy problems include stress incontinence (urinary leakage during sneezing, coughing, jumping, or running), low back pain, diastasis recti (connected to the diaphragm and pelvic floor), painful intercourse, low libido, and difficulty achieving orgasm. Diastasis recti is when the abdominal muscles are overstretched and separated by an overstretched linea alba (midline fascia). Although these problems are prevalent, they should not be considered normal. Our bodies are not designed to experience these issues, and many can resolve them through proper pelvic floor exercises at home. Some individuals may require the assistance of a physical therapist for internal fascial work.
Achieving Optimal Pelvic Floor Function
The PF requires an ideal length-tension relationship to maintain proper tone and tension. In addition to overall tightness, inadequate tension throughout the PF or in specific areas can cause issues. An overstretched PF becomes weak and less responsive, compromising its strength and functionality. This can lead to problems such as pelvic organ prolapse, vaginal flatulence, difficulty achieving orgasm, and more. Some commonly experienced issues, such as incontinence and pain, can arise from a PF that is excessively tight, overstretched, or a combination of both.
Therefore, it is important to consider whether Kegel exercises are suitable for individuals with a PF already holding excessive tension. Consulting a pelvic floor physical therapist can help determine if Kegels would be beneficial but it is becoming more common to do exercises and not do Kegels.
The Impact of Pelvic Floor Health on Sexual Satisfaction
Pelvic floor health significantly affects sexual satisfaction. Low libido, vaginal dryness, erectile dysfunction, difficulty achieving orgasm, and reduced sensations can all be linked to PF issues. Inadequate blood flow and impaired nerve function can hinder arousal, leading to diminished sexual satisfaction. The strength and responsiveness of the pelvic floor muscles also affect the intensity of orgasms.
Orgasms involve pleasurable rhythmic contractions of the PF muscles. If these muscles are weak, overstretched, excessively rigid, or unresponsive, orgasms may be less pleasurable or you might not be able to have any. A strong, toned, and responsive PF can intensify orgasmic experiences and improve the ability to achieve them. Being aware of the PF and having a connection to it is crucial for sexual satisfaction and orgasmic experiences. Some individuals may experience diminished sensation in their PF, leading to reduced sensations during sexual intercourse.
Enhancing Your Sex Life with Pelvic Floor Exercises
Pelvic floor exercises are beneficial for both women and men and can elevate your sex life to another level. Like other muscles in our bodies, our PF muscles are strong and function effectively when properly exercised. However, because we cannot observe these muscles, they are often overlooked until issues arise and prompt us to take action. Adding pelvic floor training into your regular routine, regardless of whether you currently experience issues, allows you to enjoy the benefits of a strong and high-functioning PF. By training the PF, you can improve your posture, boost confidence, enhance movement patterns, and elevate your sexual experiences.
In conclusion, the PF is a vital but often overlooked aspect of our overall health. Understanding its structure, function, and potential issues is crucial for maintaining optimal well-being. PFD is a common problem, particularly among women, and can cause various symptoms and complications. However, with appropriate exercises and, if needed, the guidance of a physical therapist, many individuals can significantly reduce or eliminate these problems. Investing in the health and well-being of your PFr is essential for optimal bodily function. By recognizing the interplay between the PF, breathing, emotions, pregnancy, childbirth, and sexual satisfaction, you can take proactive steps to enhance your overall health and quality of life.
Whether you are currently experiencing PF issues or seeking to prevent them, adding pelvic floor exercises into your routine can have profound and positive effects. It is never too late to start caring for your pelvic floor and reaping the benefits of a strong and functional core.