Pelvic Floor Exercises
You can perform these exercises lying down, sitting or standing. Ideally, aim for five or six sessions every day while you are learning the exercises. After you have a good understanding of how to do the exercises, three sessions each day is enough.
Before you start, direct your attention to your pelvic floor muscles. Try to relax your abdominal muscles. Don’t bear down or hold your breath. Gradually squeeze all three sphincters and increase the tension until you have contracted the muscles as hard as you can. Release gently and slowly. Then perform the exercises, which include:
Squeeze slowly and hold as strongly as you can for 5 to 10 seconds while breathing normally. Release slowly. Repeat 10 times. Relax for 5 to 10 seconds between each one.
Perform quick, short, strong squeezes. Repeat 10 times.
Remember to squeeze the muscles whenever you clear your throat or cough.
About Pelvic Floor Muscles
The pelvic floor muscles are tightly slung between the tailbone (coccyx) and the pubic bone, and support the bowel, bladder, uterus and vagina. Muscular bands (sphincters) encircle the urethra, vagina and anus as they pass through the pelvic floor. When the pelvic floor muscles are contracted, the internal organs are lifted and the sphincters tighten the openings of the vagina, anus and urethra. Relaxing the pelvic floor allows passage of urine and faeces.
If the muscles are weakened, the internal organs are no longer fully supported and you may not be able to control your urine. Common causes of a weakened pelvic floor include childbirth, obesity and the associated straining of chronic constipation. Pelvic floor exercises are designed to improve muscle tone and prevent the need for corrective surgery.
The symptoms of a weakened pelvic floor include:
- Leaking small amounts of urine when coughing, sneezing, laughing or running
- Failing to reach the toilet in time
- Uncontrollably breaking wind from either the anus or vagina when bending over or lifting
- Reduced sensation in the vagina
- Tampons that dislodge or fall out
- A distinct swelling at the vaginal opening
- A sensation of heaviness in the vagina.
Complications of a weakened pelvic floor
Loss of bladder control is a common symptom of a weakened pelvic floor. Some people experience bowel incontinence, which means they can’t always control the passage of wind or faeces. Weak pelvic floor muscles can also cause sexual difficulties such as reduced vaginal sensation. In severe cases, the internal organs supported by the pelvic floor, including the bladder and uterus, can slide down into the vagina. This is called a prolapse. A distinct bulge in the vagina and deep, persistent vaginal aching are common symptoms.
Familiarising yourself with the pelvic floor
Pelvic floor exercises are designed to strengthen the muscles. Each sphincter (vaginal, urethral, anal) should be exercised, so you need to familiarise yourself with these muscles in order to contract them at will. If the pelvic floor is especially weak, it may be difficult to detect any muscular contractions at first.