The pelvic floor muscles are a very undermentioned and underserved area of women's health and fitness. Many women (and men) only become aware of this set of muscles, once they are not functioning as well as one hopes and consequently many are not aware of how to prevent pelvic floor dysfunction or how to take action if symptoms do occur!
A common mistake is that most women assume when it comes to achieving good pelvic floor health we should be aiming to tighten our pelvic floor muscles which are presumed to be slack and weak.
However, for most women, tightening these muscles can cause symptoms to worsen.
An overactive/hypertonic pelvic floor occur when the muscles become too tense and are unable to relax. They are constantly overworking in a shortened position so they actually become WEAKER in function.
Pelvic floor muscles that are too overactive can impact on pelvic floor function in a variety of ways including:
Feeling a constant urge to pee and/or peeing frequently through the day,
Leakage with laughing, coughing, running, jumping etc.,
Slow flow of urine,
Low back pain, tailbone pain,
Pain during or after sex.
Do you experience any of these symptoms and didn't realise you could be holding tension in your pelvic floor?
The impact of pelvic floor tension on the rest of the body
Yes, pelvic floor tension can affect the whole body! It doesn't just show up symptoms within pelvic floor tissue and the pelvis area.
The pelvic floor is part of your core. Tightness here will impact on other elements of the core such as the diaphragm. If the diaphragm becomes tense (possibly as a result of rounded shoulders and upper back/neck stiffness), this will impact on how well you breathe, and thus, create energy in your body. This also works both ways - pelvic floor tension can itself contribute to tightness up into the diaphragm and impact on how you breathe.
It is also not uncommon to experience jaw tension alongside a tight pelvic floor, as well as tight hips, difficulty improving core strength, tight aching feet, bum squeezing, and tight shoulders.
To ask someone to just let go of their pelvic floor would be the worst (and frustrating!) place to start and would likely backfire. Restoring a overactive/hypertonic pelvic floor is much more than just letting go of tension.
We must treat the WHOLE BODY to impact the pelvic floor.
Did you realise looking after your pelvic floor (and preventing pelvic floor issues) involved working on restoring and calming tightness in your whole body?
Causes of pelvic floor tension
What else can lead to tightness and restriction in these muscles?
Doing kegels - Unless specifically prescribed or if you had a baby. few days ago, I would personally recommend avoiding these isolated pelvic floor contractions (where you clench the pelvic floor). It is much much better to integrated working these muscles into other movements/exercises so they learn to respond to movement and changes in pressure.
Sucking tummy in or holding onto their core in the aim of making it stronger or making one look slimmer! - This can restrict the natural ebb and flow of your abdominal wall/core with breathing and movement and lead to tightness.
Wearing tight clothes - As above!
Holding bladder or bowel for too long - This can create overall irritation, inflammation and tension within the abdomen and pelvic bowl.
Constipation - as above.
Being stressed/anxious. Just like the neck, upper back and shoulder, the pelvic floor is a common place to hold stress and chronic stress = chronic tightness and dysfunction.
Approaching menopause due to declining oestrogen levels, which keep the pelvic floor muscles healthy.
Being overweight - meaning the pelvic floor muscles have to work harder to support abdominal and pelvic contents.
Pregnancy - due to additional body weight and hormonal effects of relaxing connective tissue.
Scar tissue - whether it's from a c-section, tearing or episiotomy from a vaginal birth or other pelvic/abdominal surgery.
Can you relate to any of the above which could be attributing to your pelvic floor tension symptoms?
How do we improve pelvic floor tension?
For many women, as discussed previously, improving pelvic floor function actually involves reducing tightness around the whole body from the neck down to the toes, as well as the pelvic floor muscles themselves.
Treatment includes training the pelvic floor muscles to contract AND RELAX fully rather than training them to become tighter.
We start with relaxation, coordination with correct breathing and movement BEFORE strengthening.
Other ways to improve tightness includes bladder and bowel habits, abdominal massage and scar soft tissue therapy, which I often explore with 121 clients.
However, from Monday 28th February, I'll be running a new 4-week programme called, Calm.
Join me for a 20-25 minute live weekly online session on Monday's at 12.30pm (recording available if you can't make it live) plus repeat the session again, at least once before the following Monday.
We'll be exploring plenty of relaxation mobility, relaxation and visualisation exercises to reduce physical and emotional tightness around the body with the primary objective of releasing the pelvic floor.