Pelvic Floor Exercises: How they can strengthen your pelvic muscles and reduce pain
Pelvic floor exercises build strength and endurance in the muscles around the uterus, bladder, and rectum. They can help reduce pain in your pelvis and abdomen.
·October 7th, 2021
Pelvic floor exercises are targeted, repeated movements that help you build strength and endurance in the pelvic muscles around your uterus, bladder, and rectum.
Pelvic floor exercises can help you address a range of conditions, from incontinence to dysmenorrhea, to regain function and reduce pain in your pelvic region.
Exercises are often performed in sequence and multiple times per day.
Sound Cycle’s network of physical therapists can help you connect with a trained expert in women’s health and the pelvic floor to determine the exercises that are right for you.
Many of us have seen a physical therapist to treat injuries like a broken ankle, or as part of the recovery process from orthopedic surgery. But physical therapy can help with some issues that are less obvious or discussed–like those that impact the pelvic floor and the menstrual system more broadly.
Pelvic floor physical therapy is generally performed by physical therapists who complete additional study in women’s health, pelvic health, or obstetrics. In addition to mastering the techniques and exercises, pelvic floor physical therapists focus on making sure all patients are comfortable throughout their experience.
Pelvic floor exercises form the core of most pelvic floor physical therapy sessions, and work to develop muscle strength, flexibility, and control.
What are pelvic floor exercises?
Pelvic floor exercises build strength and endurance in the muscles around the pelvic organs – the uterus, bladder, and rectum. They can help to regain control of everyday functions, combat pelvic floor weakness and reduce pain in your pelvis and abdomen. When performing pelvic floor exercises, you may be asked to first identify and isolate the correct muscles and then repeat a series of actions several times over the course of the day.
The more you practice these exercises, the longer you’ll be able to maintain holds and the stronger your pelvic floor muscles will get. Often, exercises are performed in conjunction with other pelvic floor physical therapy techniques like biofeedback, massage, or electrical stimulation. Additionally, depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing, pelvic floor exercises can be enhanced by other complementary treatments, like acupuncture or holistic care.
What types of pelvic floor exercises are there?
Pelvic floor exercises take on many forms, so it’s important to consult with your physical therapist about what combination of exercises will work best for you and the symptoms you are experiencing. Often, a physical therapy session will combine techniques, and you may be asked to practice exercises at home in between sessions.
Kegels (sometimes referred to as pelvic floor muscle exercises, or PFME): Kegels were one of the earliest forms of pelvic floor exercise, developed in the 1940s. To perform kegels, you alternate tensing and relaxing the muscles of your pelvic floor, repeating the series several times each day. Kegels can help you build strength and gain functional awareness of pelvic floor muscles you may not have been conscious of previously. They can be performed at home or discretely during the day, and have long been used to help women prepare for and recover from childbirth, and to remedy urinary incontinence.
Stretching exercises: Stretching exercises can focus on the muscles of the abdomen, thighs, glutes, or groin and have been shown to be effective in treatment of myofascial pain and menstrual cramps
Diaphragmatic breathing: Diaphragmatic breathing exercises use different breathing techniques to isolate the muscles of the diaphragm, which often work in concert with the pelvic floor muscles. These exercises have been shown to be particularly effective in improving the endurance of the pelvic floor
Posture correction: Surprisingly enough, your posture both seated and standing affect how much work your pelvic floor muscles have to do. Posture training can reduce the burden on your muscles to stay tense, and can address some of the pain they may be causing
What symptoms and conditions can pelvic floor exercises help treat?
While pelvic floor exercises were originally developed to address urinary or fecal incontinence, they have since been shown to improve a range of menstrual, postpartum and digestive symptoms.
Urinary incontinence: In a review of 31 trials of pelvic floor interventions to treat urinary incontinence, pelvic floor muscle training was identified consistently as a means of reducing symptoms and in many cases curing urinary incontinence, whether stress-caused or otherwise
Dysmenorrhea: Kegels, stretching exercises, and other forms of pelvic floor muscle training have been shown to reduce menstrual pain and improve quality of life associated with dysmenorrhea
Myofascial pain: Myofascial pain is associated with the muscles of the pelvic floor itself, resulting from conditions like endometriosis or arising independently. It can contribute to other elements of pelvic floor dysfunction
Postpartum muscle weakness: Childbirth can weaken or damage your pelvic floor muscles, but exercises can be used to recuperate and strengthen those muscles
Many of the above symptoms can exist on their own or co-occur with one another. Symptoms may be caused by an underlying menstrual health condition, like PCOS or Endometriosis. Ultimately, using these exercises can improve pelvic floor function for many people – including better bowel control and bladder control.
If you believe your symptoms could be helped by any type of pelvic floor exercise, it’s worth reaching out to a physical therapist with pelvic floor expertise to understand which ones could be most beneficial for you. Pelvic floor exercises are not advised for all menstrual health conditions, so check with your doctor on whether they would be a good fit.