The pelvic floor muscles contribute to core strength and balance, as well as their primary duty of supporting the pelvic organs, which include the bladder, uterus and rectum — and supporting the baby during pregnancy. A strong pelvic floor makes childbirth easier and shortens recovery time, enhances sexual sensation, and as an added bonus, can help alleviate back pain.
Conversely, a weakened pelvic floor—one that has been damaged by chronic cough or constipation, pregnancy and childbirth—can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction, which affects about 7 in 10 women at some point in their lives.
Pelvic Floor Disorders
Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) is an extremely common condition that can be caused by aging or excessive weight gain, but most frequently is the result of pregnancy and child birth. Stretching or weakening of the pelvic floor makes it challenging for women to control the flow of urine. Simple things like laughing, coughing or sneezing can trigger leakage, as can higher-impact activities like running, jumping or lifting heavy objects.
Pelvic organ prolapse is another pelvic floor disorder that affects half of all child-bearing women. It occurs when the pelvic organs, no longer supported by the pelvic floor, droop out of place and put pressure on the vagina. Symptoms can include pain or a pulling sensation in the pelvic region, discomfort during sexual intercourse, frequent urinary tract infections, bowel issues and back pain. In severe cases, it is possible for the pelvic organs to become visible outside of the body through the vagina.
Like stretch marks, pelvic floor dysfunction is a normal result of pregnancy and childbirth. Many women think that living with a little incontinence or mild pain during intercourse is just part of the deal, but this is not the case.
Maintaining a strong pelvic floor is key to avoiding pelvic floor disorders. To reduce symptoms, women should practice a healthy lifestyle that includes eating a well-balanced diet and losing excessive weight, and should not smoke.
Physical therapy has been very effective in treating pelvic floor disorders and restoring strength to the pelvic floor. Physical therapists specializing in pelvic health may use Pilates-based exercises, core-training, posture-correction and biofeedback. Daily Kegel exercises (before, during and after pregnancy), pessaries and pelvic massage also can help.
Women who are considering surgery to correct these conditions should do so only after exhausting alternative treatment options. Certain surgical solutions can create additional complications. Transvaginal mesh implants, for example, have prompted warnings from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Traditional surgical options do not carry the risks of mesh: erosion, shrinkage, organ perforation and infection.
Linda Grayling writes for Drugwatch.com. Linda has a number of professional interests, including keeping up with the latest developments in the medical field.Join the Drugwatch community on our Facebook page to find out more.