A bird’s eye view of the pelvic floor muscles
Have you heard of pelvic floor dysfunction? I hadn’t; not before meeting women who suffer from it. And I’d never heard of a pelvic floor before that, either. We’re going to focus today on pelvic floor dysfunction in women (although men can get it). But what is it?
The pelvic floor is made up of a lot of little muscles, nerves, and tissues all working together for your body to function. Imagine it as a tightly-woven basket at the underside of your pelvis, sweeping from front to back, and side to side. Not only does it support the organs of the pelvis, but it also wraps around the urethra, rectum, and vagina. When these muscles, nerves, and tissues stop working properly (they are too tense or too lax), it’s called pelvic floor dysfunction. It can cause pain and difficulty with urination, defecation, intercourse, and lower back pain.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes pelvic floor dysfunction, but know that it does exist…and can occur for a lot of different reasons. Data shows that almost 50% of people that suffer with constipation actually suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction.
The symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction vary:
- Feeling like you have to poo a lot over a short period of time
- You feel unsatisfied about a poo and feel like you’ need to go more
- Straining to poo
- A frequent need to pee. Sometimes once you start peeing, you stop and start again mid-stream
- It hurts to pee
- You feel a need to bear down to pee
- Lower back pain
- Ongoing pain in your pelvis, genitals, or rectum
- Painful sex
- Muscle spasms along the pelvic floor
Many women with Endometriosis and Interstitial Cystitis suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction. Some of these women treat with antidepressants, which may worsen the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction.
If you suspect you have pelvic floor dysfunction, your doctor will get a complete medical history from you, including your symptoms. He/she may conduct an internal physical examination to determine how well you can control your pelvic muscles. Another test may involve the use of an adhesive pad with electrodes between your anus and vaginal opening which measures muscle contractions (this does not sound pleasant). A perineometer may be used, which is a small tampon-like sensor that is inserted into the vaginal canal that takes readings of muscle strength and weakness. An x-ray test may also be conducted: you’re given an enema and your muscle contractions are visible to the physician as you push out your poo (I’d die of embarrassment). Another test may check the weakness or strength of your ability to control urinating.
You’ve been told you have pelvic floor dysfunction. Now what? Several treatment options are available to you:
- Physical therapy : internal or external manipulation of the muscles, trigger point release, massage, nerve release, and skin rolling.
- Biofeedback and electric stimulation : working with a physical therapist using electrodes to measure and improve muscle coordination and relaxation.
- Ultrasound therapy : using sound waves to help reduce spasms and reduce inflammation.
- Cold laser treatments : may be used to reduce inflammation and pain.
- Medication : low-dose muscle relaxants may help ease pelvic floor dysfunction and restore muscle control
- Relaxation techniques : warm baths, yoga, breathing exercises, and stretching exercises may also help realign and restore whacky muscles
- A change in diet : eat foods that are well-known to aid in the pooping-arena, such as high-fiber fruits and vegetables.
- Surgery : in extreme cases, such as rectal prolapse, surgery may be required to repair dysfunctional pelvic floor muscles.
Several of the gals in our local support group had the pleasure of going to a pelvic pain & pelvic floor therapy workshop hosted by Comprehensive Physical Therapy in San Diego. It was wonderfully enlightening, and a few of the therapists also suffer from Endometriosis.
Prevention Magazine ran a story in 2014 (careful, lots of pop-ups) about pelvic floor dysfunction and followed the story of “Lisa.” The article also points out several tips and tricks you could do to help aid in the healing of PFD.
If you suffer from a pelvic floor disorder and want to meet a community of people who also know what you’re going through, you may want to check out Voices for PFD.
Thank you, Toni, for suggesting I read up and write about PFD. I learned a lot today.
Mayo Clinic – (Article; Feb. 2012) Recognition and Management of Nonrelaxing Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
Prevention Magazine – (Article; April 2014) Why It Hurts Down There. What You Need to Know About Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
~ Again, I am a layman. I do not hold any college degrees, nor mastery of knowledge. Please take what I say with a grain of salt. If curious, do your own research 🙂 Validate my writings. Or challenge them. And ALWAYS feel free to consult with your physician. Always. Yours ~ Lisa