It’s an often forgotten fact that pelvic floor muscles are part of your core. They don’t work in isolation, but work synergistically with your transverse abdominus, diaphragm and deep spinal muscles and are essential for maintaining good posture, supporting your back, supporting your internal organs and controlling body functions such as passing wind or pee.
One third women and 20% men develop a pelvic floor disorder at some stage in their lives. The most common problems are urinary incontinence and prolapse; but constipation, haemorrhoids, painful sex and erectile dysfunction can also be related to problems with this little but very significant set of muscles. The good news is that these problems are mostly preventable and curable without surgery, pills, injections or side effects.
As a fitness professional you are ideally placed to identify people with, or at risk of, pelvic floor problems, and support them with an appropriate program. Almost every exercise your client does affects their pelvic floor, potentially having an impact on their bladder and bowel health and subsequent quality of life.
Get it right
When you contract the muscles, they close off the urethra and anus and narrow the vaginal opening (or retract the penis.) They also lift inwards towards your stomach.
The contraction isn’t seen on the outside and doesn’t interfere with normal breathing. You should feel the muscle squeeze the anus and urethra closed and can feel the vagina or scrotum lift upwards. Getting the movement right is more important that how hard you squeeze or how many you do!
Pelvic Floor Muscle Training (PFMT) – Who needs to know?
Starting with Dr Kegel in 1948, there has been lots of high level research to show PMFT works. One study found that PFMT was as effective as Viagra for erectile dysfunction and the International Continence Society recommends that PFMT should be offered before any other treatment.
1 in 3 of us need expert help to get it right
Some people cannot feel the muscles working and may use the wrong muscles or even push down. Others have very tight or stiff pelvic floor muscles which also causes problems. Overworking your hip and trunk flexors can also interfere with the optimal function of the pelvic floor. If you cannot feel your pelvic floor muscles squeezing, lifting and relaxing; then getting help from a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist is essential. Expert help is also needed if you’ve tried similar exercises before and it hasn’t helped.
The information in this article has been adapted from the booklet Reclaim Your Core – Finding the right muscles, which is available from continencevictoria.org.au. This booklet along with others in the series are great resources for you and your clients in keeping aware and in control of these essential muscles.
Therese (Terry) Wesselink is a registered physiotherapist with post graduate qualifications in Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy. She is Executive Officer at the VCRC and author of these resources along with conducting Pelvic Floor, Core and More as well as Reclaim Your Core Workshops.
If you’re wanting to gain more insight and knowledge in how to better train and care for your clients the Victorian Continence Resource Centre (VCRC) runs an Accredited Workshop; Pelvic Floor, Core and More.