Pelvic health refers to the function and wellbeing of the muscles, organs, nerves and connective tissues in the pelvic region. Many men and women are affected by pelvic health conditions. The majority of these conditions have a significant impact on quality of life due to pain and/or embarrassment.
Why is pelvic health so important?
Many of these conditions affect lifestyles, causing a decline in activity and social interaction and have a huge role to play in the decline of mental health. The figures speak for themselves. Between 15-30% of first-time mums will experience urinary incontinence, and a startling one in five first-time mums complain of faecal incontinence at one year postnatally. One in nine men leak urine and one in ten have faecal incontinence.
Urinary incontinence is cited as the second most common reason for elderly women being taken into care. Pelvic health conditions are, however, often preventable and treatable. 84% of women who suffer urinary incontinence stress that the condition improves with pelvic health physiotherapy. So, the outlook is by no means bleak – we just need to make pelvic health physiotherapy more accessible and improve education around this subject.
What sort of conditions do pelvic health physios treat?
Pelvic health (PH) physiotherapists treat women and men of all ages. Women will benefit from seeing a PH physio at every stage of their life cycle, including pregnancy, post baby and menopause.
PH physiotherapists treat women who leak urine, have bowel issues such as constipation and faecal urgency, pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic pain, dyspareunia (painful sex), diastasis recti (tummy separation) and pelvic girdle pain of pregnancy.
Men also have PH issues and many PH physios treat them too. Male conditions include leaking urine, faecal incontinence, pelvic pain, sexual dysfunction and pelvic dysfunction.
What impact can the strength of pelvic muscles have and how are we able to train/strengthen them?
The pelvic floor’s function is to stop us leaking wee and poo, support our pelvic organs (in women that includes the uterus, bladder and bowels), and improve our sexual function. It contributes to low back and pelvic stability and serves as a lymphatic ‘pump’. It’s a very important muscle.
Like any other muscle it needs to be exercised otherwise it stops working as well and its functionality is reduced. To ensure that you are doing your pelvic floor exercises correctly we advocate seeing a PH physiotherapist who will assess and teach you how to strengthen your pelvic floor. If you are unable to see a physio – download the ‘Squeezy app’, which is designed to help you exercise your pelvic floor correctly. Follow the simple instructions below to get started!
How to squeeze your pelvic floor muscles:
- First, tighten (squeeze) the muscles around the back passage, as if you are trying to stop yourself passing wind.
- While you hold this squeeze tighten around your vagina and urethra as if you are trying to stop yourself for passing urine.
- It should feel like a squeeze and lift inside.
- After each squeeze and lift make sure you fully relax your muscles by letting them rest back to the starting level.
Try not to hold your breath when you carry this out. You need to carry out both strong long holds, and short squeezes. The idea is that you carry out 10 second holds x10 reps and 10 quick flicks, three times a day.
There seems to be a taboo associated with conditions affecting the bladder and bowel: how do you think we can break this?
We need to talk about these conditions, raise awareness in the media and highlight that they are, unfortunately, common, but also very treatable and not just something you have to live with. It is not acceptable to suffer with these conditions and, by raising awareness, we can break the taboos, desensitise people’s embarrassment and give them ‘permission’ to talk about them.
What advice do you have for anyone who is suffering from a pelvic health condition?
Seek help. Visit your GP and request a referral to a PH physiotherapist. Alternatively, seek help privately if you are able to. You can find out where your local physiotherapist is by visiting the Squeezy directory too (www.squeezyapp.com/directory).Start your pelvic floor exercises today, using the squeezy app as a guide and reminder.
There is a heap of useful information on the internet about a variety of PH conditions, but it can be bewildering to know where to look!