The pelvic floor is talked about a lot, but what is it exactly? The pelvic floor is a muscular hammock that is inside the pelvis. It supports the pelvic organs: bladder, colon, uterus, or prostate.
Explanation of the Pelvic Floor
These muscles are small but they are mighty. Most people aren’t aware of them because they are inside the body. Unlike the biceps or the glutes, which are visible and easy to connect with. But what the pelvic floor lacks in visibility it makes up in function and multi-tasking skills. As mentioned earlier it supports a lot of organs. All-day long it is holding your bladder, colon, uterus, or prostate. It doesn’t get a break. It also works with your deep abdominals and back muscles to provide postural support.
These muscles also surround the urethra, vagina, and rectum. They make sure you don’t pee your pants when laughing at a meme your BFF sent you and they keep you from farting while riding a crowded elevator. Then when you sit on the toilet they listen, relax and help you do your business.
Healthy vs Unhealthy
If your pelvic floor is healthy there is a chance you may not be aware of these muscles at all. If you can start and stop urination and bowel movements when you want, are able to move without pain, and can participate in sexual activities without any issues, chances are your pelvic floor muscles are in good shape.
Unfortunately, like any other muscle of the body, the pelvic floor muscles can become impaired. They can become weak or have a difficult time contracting, relaxing, or lengthening. They can become spasmodic, guarded, restricted, or hypertonic (tight). Tight muscles restrict blood flow. They can irritate nerves that travel in the area and can lead to the development of muscle knots, known as myofascial trigger points.
Since these muscles have such a close relationship with various organs, any form of muscle dysfunction may present as pelvic pain and/or bowel, bladder, or sexual dysfunction.
Examples of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
For instance, due to the muscles’ proximity to the bladder, sometimes the brain mistakes pelvic floor tightness or spasms as the bladder is full and needs to pee. This can be a cause of urinary urgency that seems similar to a UTI, but it is actually a case of overactive muscles. If the muscles that surround the urethra have trouble relaxing, it can make it difficult or even painful when one tries to pee. This inability to relax can make vaginal penetration difficult or even impossible or it can make bowel movements painful.
Pelvic floor dysfunction can even present as what would appear to be an orthopedic problem, like hip or low back pain. In fact, one study showed that among patients reporting low back pain, 95% of them also had some form of pelvic floor dysfunction on examination. So, if you have struggled with back pain and your providers have been scratching their heads, it may be worth seeing a pelvic floor specialist.
Bottom line, if you experience urinary, bowel, sexual dysfunction, and/or pain anywhere between your rib cage and your knees, it could be due to a problem with the pelvic floor!