Pelvic floor exercises and why we shouldn’t neglect them
A weak pelvic floor can cause a host of issues, including leaking urine but strengthening them up is possible.
Do you wet yourself a little bit when you laugh, cough or sneeze? Then you may have a weak pelvic floor.
Affecting both men and women, many people just ‘put up’ with the problem, often due to embarrassment or thinking it’s an inevitable result of menopause or ageing but the good news is your pelvic floor muscles can be strengthened by training and it’s never too late to start.
Pelvic floor muscles help maintain the position of pelvic organs, and all bladder, bowel and sexual functions need them to be strong. Just like any other muscles, they can become damaged and weakened. They’re constantly pulled down by gravity while we’re standing, which means they weaken as we age. Factors including constipation, smoking, illness, certain high-intensity exercises, menopause, injury, obesity and childbirth can also damage our pelvic floor muscles.
How to find your pelvic floor muscles
If you’re a woman, sit on any hard surface with your feet flat on the floor. Lean slightly forward with your vulval area in contact with the hard surface, and try to lift the area around your vagina and anus away from whatever you’re sitting on. These are your pelvic floor muscles contracting. Men should sit or lie and squeeze the ring of muscle around the back passage as if trying to stop passing wind. Then relax the muscle. Squeeze and let go a few times until you’re sure you’ve found the right muscles. Try not to squeeze your buttocks.
How to do pelvic floor exercises
Either lying with feet flat on the floor, sitting or standing, draw up your pelvic floor muscles, squeeze and hold for a count of five if possible. Let go and count to five. Repeat the process five times, and do this three times every day. Keep practising and hold for a longer time, until you can contract the muscles for 10 seconds each time. Once a day, also do a series of 10 short, sharp contractions, which will help you maintain control when you sneeze or cough.
It’s important everyone does pelvic floor exercises, even if they don’t currently have a problem.
Pelvic floor dysfunction can start at the menopause
Oestrogen is important for keeping the pelvic floor ligaments strong and elastic, so when levels of the hormone drop, the ligaments become thinner, weaker and less resilient and pelvic floor problems are more likely to occur.
Half of women over 50 have some degree of prolapse
A prolapse happens when weakened pelvic floor muscles and a weakened vaginal wall lead to one or more of the pelvic organs, often the bladder, bulging into the vagina. You may have no symptoms and it’s only noticed on a routine smear test, or it may feel like you’re sitting on a ball or have a heavy feeling in your vagina.
Don’t just ignore a prolapse – start exercising those pelvic floor muscles!
Men have a pelvic floor too
In general, the male pelvic floor behaves better than the female one, largely because men don’t have babies. However, about a third of men over the age of 50 have some form of lower urinary symptoms.
Yoga can help
Do the exercises regularly
It is recommended that we all practice pelvic floor muscle exercises at least three times a day. It may be easier to do them, at least initially, when sitting or lying down. and you may need to start with little and often.
Melina - Assistant Editor
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