You may be surprised to know that we are not talking about your quads or your biceps here. It’s time to talk about your pelvic floor! Ok, I get it. Maybe it’s not the 1st thing on your mind. You may be focused on getting ready for ski season or losing a few pounds around the holidays. However, some of you may be worried about leaking urine if you sneeze, laugh, or exercise at all. Urinary incontinence affects 25 million people in the US, yet many times people suffer in silence due to the misconception that it is untreatable and concede, “I just have to live with it.” The truth is, most times it can be successfully treated and managed – for both men and women.
What is my pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles, ligaments, connective tissues and nerves that form a sling from your pubic bone to your tailbone. They form the base of your core and work to control your bladder and bowel to maintain continence, allow for pain-free and enjoyable intercourse, hold up the pelvic organs, and help stabilize your pelvis and spine. That’s a lot of responsibility for muscles that are typically neglected in a daily workout routine!
How do I strengthen my pelvic floor?
A pelvic floor contraction or Kegel exercise, is a very subtle contraction which includes a lifting of the muscles deep inside the pelvis and a slight tensing or drawing in of the lower abdominal muscles. Sounds easy enough, right? Maybe. But often it is much harder to do than you would think. Many times people try so hard to squeeze these muscles that they are actually tightening everything but their pelvic floor! You want to make sure you are not holding your breath, pushing out your abdominals, clenching your butt, or squeezing your inner thighs instead. If performed correctly, no one should be able to tell you are doing it.
To make sure you are engaging the right muscles, you can perform a little test – you can tighten your pelvic floor mid-stream to try to stop, or at least slow down, the flow of urine. A word of caution though – you only want to do this as a test and not as a way to exercise these muscles, because this can confuse your bladder.
How long & how many?
You want to challenge your muscles to do more than they are used to doing, but you also want to be careful not to overdo it. The quality of the exercise is more important than the number you perform. To begin with, you want to work the endurance of these muscles by gently squeeze the pelvic floor muscles and hold for 5 seconds, then rest for the count of 10. Progress to holding for 10, relax for 10, 3 times per day. You also want to work quick flicks for strength. To do this, you want to hold the pelvic floor contraction for the count of 2, rest for the count of 5. Repeat these 10 times, 3 times per day.
Is it all about the pelvic floor?
The short answer? No! Although strengthening the pelvic floor was the primary focus here, it is important to realize that these muscles don’t work in isolation. They work with other muscles in your core as a part of an integrated system. While strengthening your pelvic floor is important in addressing many pelvic floor disorders, such as incontinence, there are many other considerations to keep in mind. Feel free to contact one of our pelvic floor specialists at PhysioCare if you have any questions.