What are the pelvic floor muscles?
When we talk about pelvic floor muscles, we refer to a sheet of muscles that extend from your tailbone (coccyx) to your pubic bone at the front. These muscles form a “platform” between your legs and a floor to your pelvis (the bottom part of your abdomen or tummy). This floor supports your bladder, your bowel, and your uterus (womb).
The pelvic floor muscles control the openings of several organs which pass through it:
- Urethra – the tube that takes the urine outside of your body
- Vagina – the birth canal, important during intercourse
- Anus – back passage, allows the opening of the bowels
If your pelvic floor muscles weaken you may experience symptoms like:
- aching or dragging sensation in your vagina.
- feeling as if something comes down inside your vagina (may be due to a prolapse). This would occur if where one or more organs in your pelvis, such as your womb or vagina dropped down from their normal position.
- tendency to leak urine when coughing, laughing, or sneezing.
- needing to go to the toilet frequently during the day or night.
- urgent need to visit the toilet to empty your bladder or bowels and leak (urine and/or stool) in the process •inability to control the passing of wind from your back passage.
Your pelvic floor muscles may weaken for several reasons, including lack of exercise, straining to open your bowels, being overweight, or having pelvic surgery. Like many other muscles in our body, the pelvic floor muscles can be strengthened by performing regular, specific exercises.
How can I strengthen my pelvic floor muscles?
Contrary to superficial muscles, the pelvic floor muscles are not visible and you may not know how to “flex” them. To understand how these muscles work and how to exercise them, you first need to learn how to activate them. You can try 2 different ways:
- try to stop the flow of urine in mid-stream
- Imagine trying to avoid passing wind by squeezing inside and upwards.
With practice, you will be able to do pelvic floor exercises while standing, squatting, or lying down. However, while learning, the easiest way is to do them sitting down.
There are 2 types of exercises, slow contractions and fast contractions. In the lines below you will learn about both types of exercise.
Get in position:
- Sit on a chair, toilet seat, or toilet lid
- Place your feet flat on the floor
- Set your legs slightly apart
- Lean forward and rest your elbows on your knees
Slow contractions exercise
- Pretend trying to avoid passing wind by squeezing inside and upwards, while making sure you do not tighten your buttock muscles.
- Pretend to stop the flow of urine in mid-stream.
- Breathe normally, do not hold your breath.
- While you pull upwards, try holding the squeeze for 10 seconds or less if that is too long. Then relax for as long as you hold the squeeze.
- Repeat this 8 times.
- After a few days, you will be able to hold longer
Fast contractions exercise
- Activate your pelvic floor muscles (as explained above)
- Hold for 1 second and relax for 1 second
- Repeat until your muscles feel tired
Ideally, you should do these exercises 3 times a day. During the first days, you may want to stick to doing the slow contractions exercise 3 times a day. Later, once you feel confident you can add the fast contractions exercise after doing the former. You will find that doing these exercises properly requires a lot of attention at first, but as you may know, practice makes perfect!