The pelvic floor muscles are a supportive sling of muscles, stretching from the tailbone at the back to the pubic bone at the front. They are responsible for supporting the pelvic organs – the bladder, bowel and womb, especially when standing; they also help protect these from external damage. They also have a role in sexual function during intercourse (Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, 2016).
Factors leading to incontinence or weakness include:
- Long term cough
- Being overweight
- Menopausal changes
- Pelvic surgery/ trauma
- Repeated heavy lifting
(Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust, 2016).
Symptoms that might indicate a pelvic floor weakness include:
Pelvic Floor First (2016) list the common signs which can indicate pelvic floor dysfunction:
- Accidentally leaking urine when you exercise, laugh, cough or sneeze
- Needing to get to the toilet in a hurry or not making it there in time
- Constantly needing to go to the toilet
- Finding it difficult to empty your bladder or bowel
- Accidentally losing control of your bladder or bowel
- Accidentally passing wind
- A prolapse. In women, this may be felt as a bulge in the vagina or a feeling of heaviness, discomfort, pulling, dragging or dropping. In men, this may be felt as a bulge in the rectum or a feeling of needing to use their bowels but not actually needing to go
- Pain in your pelvic area
- Painful sex
Exercises to help strengthen your pelvic floor
Pelvic floor exercises, sometimes referred to as Kegels, can be performed in order to strengthen the pelvic floor and reduce symptoms associated with pelvic floor dysfunction, including incontinence. There are plenty of resources available online with guidance on how to perform these exercises. Persistence is key as it can take a few months to notice the results, and it’s important to continue exercises, even once results are achieved (NHS, 2017).
If you have any concerns at all relating to your pelvic floor or incontinence, please don’t hesitate to speak to your GP. As well as pelvic floor exercises, there are other treatments and recommendations available which can have a positive impact on quality of life.