Pelvic Floor 101: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding and Nurturing Your Pelvic Floor

Far beyond its role in supporting bodily functions, the pelvic floor is a cornerstone of strength, stability, and overall health. Whether you’re embarking on a journey of discovery or seeking to deepen your knowledge, this guide will equip you with the essential understanding and practical insights needed to cultivate a strong, balanced, and empowered pelvic foundation. We will dive into pelvic floor health, therapy, pre and postpartum, conditions associated, and ways to strengthen and help your overall pelvic health. 

What is the Pelvic Floor? Pelvic Floor Definition

Whether you call them pelvic floor muscles, PC muscles, Kegel muscles, or any other name the muscles of your pelvic floor are just that: muscles. These are skeletal muscles, just like your biceps or quadriceps that have involuntary postural function, and can be voluntarily contracted for more support. And, these muscles also happen to have close proximity to your organs responsible for elimination and sexual function, which is why it may be difficult to find people to talk to about them, or to treat them if there are issues.

To give you a more direct answer, the pelvic floor refers to a group of muscles and connective tissues located at the base of the pelvis. It forms a supportive hammock-like structure, providing key support to the pelvic organs, including the bladder, uterus (in females), and rectum. Think of the pelvic floor as a sling that spans from the pubic bone to the tailbone, with openings for the urethra, vagina (in females), and anus.

Image ℅  OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology

Other topics covered in our article: What is the Pelvic Floor? Definition, Anatomy, and More

  • Pelvic Floor Muscles, Anatomy, and Functions
  • How to Find Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
  • Female vs. Male Pelvic Floor
  • What are the Most Common Pelvic Floor Conditions and Disorders?
  • What are the common treatments for pelvic floor conditions?
  • How to Keep Your Pelvic Floor Healthy

Common Conditions Associated with the Pelvic Floor

Pelvic Floor Dyssynergia

Pelvic floor dyssynergia means the pelvic floor muscles have become uncoordinated, which creates challenges to control the functionality of muscles coordinated with the bladder and rectum. Healthy pelvic floor muscles lengthen and contract harmoniously to:

  1. (contract/tighten) prevent urine and stool from leaking (incontinence) and,
  2. (lengthen/relax) to void all waste during a bowel movement.

When pelvic floor dyssynergia is present, the muscles do not relax and contract in a coordinated manner, resulting in “dysfunction”. Understanding how pelvic floor muscles function and learning how to control them is the first step to overcoming any symptoms of pelvic floor dyssynergia. 

Learn more about Pelvic Floor Dyssynergia: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatments.

Pelvic Floor Pain

If you are experiencing ongoing pain in your lower belly or pelvic area, you may feel at a loss about what is actually happening. Especially for women, it’s not uncommon to experience pains in the pelvic area, and deciphering whether the pain is period pain, pelvic floor pain, or something else entirely can be difficult. 

Pelvic floor pain can have a significant impact on an individual’s physical, emotional, and social well-being. The pain can be acute or chronic and may range from mild to severe, and can really impact a person’s quality of life. Pelvic floor pain can be caused by quite a few factors, and can affect just about anyone. It’s naturally most common in women, as there tends to be more stress on the pelvic floor, particularly during pregnancy and childbirth. 

Learn more about Pelvic Floor Pain: Understanding, Effects, and Next Steps.

Pelvic Floor Muscle Spasms

Pelvic floor pain affects millions of people and is especially common in women who are or who have been pregnant. A pelvic floor spasm involves contracted, painful muscles on palpation. In addition, when evaluated with professional tools, elevated resting muscle pressure is present. 

Pelvic floor muscle spasms can manifest in various ways, and individuals may experience different symptoms. Common symptoms and effects of pelvic floor muscle spasms include:

  • Pelvic floor muscle pain
  • Vaginal and/or rectal pain
  • Painful intercourse
  • Urinary symptoms
  • Bowel dysfunction
  • And many more

Like any muscle spasm, pelvic floor muscle spasms are involuntary contractions or tightening of the muscles in the pelvic floor region. Sometimes these spasms can come without any warning at all, just like a charlie horse. You might say that a pelvic floor muscle spasm is like having a charlie horse in your vagina, which anyone could understand as being incredibly uncomfortable. 

Learn more about Pelvic Floor Muscle Spasms: Definition, Causes, and Treatments

Pelvic Organ Prolapse

Uterine Prolapse

Uterine prolapse occurs when the uterus drops or sags into the vaginal canal area. It occurs when the pelvic floor muscles and ligaments that support the uterus become weakened or damaged, allowing the uterus to shift from its normal position. Uterine prolapse can range from mild, where the cervix is still within the vagina, to severe, where the uterus protrudes outside the vaginal opening.

Uterine prolapse can be caused by various factors, mostly from conditions that weaken pelvic muscles and supportive tissue. Causes of weakened pelvic muscles and tissues include:

  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Age and hormonal changes
  • Chronic straining in the bathroom

Uterine prolapse can be categorized into different stages based on the degree of descent:

  • First-Degree Prolapse: The cervix descends into the lower part of the vagina.
  • Second-Degree Prolapse: The cervix protrudes near or at the vaginal opening.
  • Third-Degree Prolapse: The cervix and uterus extend beyond the vaginal opening.

It is recommended to seek medical attention if you experience symptoms of uterine prolapse or notice a bulge or protrusion from the vaginal opening. 

Learn more about Uterine Prolapse: Definition, Symptoms, and More

Bladder Prolapse

A bladder prolapse (also known as cystocele) happens when the front wall of the vagina weakens, causing the bladder to descend or bulge into the vaginal canal. It happens when the pelvic floor muscles and ligaments that support the bladder become stretched or weakened, leading to the bladder’s downward displacement. Common names for bladder prolapse that you might hear are:

  • Fallen bladder
  • Anterior wall prolapse
  • Cystocele
  • Herniated bladder
  • Dropped bladder

Bladder prolapse can be caused by several factors, including:

  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Aging and menopause
  • Chronic strain
  • Connective tissue disorder
  • Smoking
  • Obesity 
  • Family history

The symptoms of bladder prolapse can vary depending on the degree of prolapse and individual factors. A mild case may not present many obvious symptoms but one of the first and most notable signs of prolapse is a feeling like there’s a ball of tissue in the vagina. Knowing the symptoms is the best way to advocate for yourself in diagnosing bladder prolapse early. Below are some common symptoms associated with bladder prolapse, but are also common to other pelvic floor dysfunctions. It is essential to consult with a health professional to diagnose properly. Any woman who notices the symptoms of a prolapsed bladder should consult their physician.

Learn more about Bladder Prolapse: Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

Vaginal Vault Prolapse

A vaginal prolapse happens when there is drooping of the upper portion of the vagina into the vaginal canal or outside the vaginal opening. It occurs when the tissues and muscles that support the vagina weaken or become damaged, leading to a loss of vaginal support and resulting in a slip of the vaginal vault.

Many women can present a vaginal vault prolapse at varying degrees. Clinically speaking, the condition can be categorized based on the extent and severity of the prolapse:

  • First-Degree Prolapse: The vaginal vault descends into the upper portion of the vaginal canal.
  • Second-Degree Prolapse: The vaginal vault descends to or beyond the vaginal opening but does not protrude outside the body.
  • Third-Degree Prolapse: The vaginal vault protrudes outside the vaginal opening, sometimes reaching the point where it is visible or palpable.

Vaginal vault prolapse typically affects women who have undergone a hysterectomy, regardless of age. However, there are other contributing risk factors for developing vaginal vault prolapse such as:

  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Aging and menopause
  • Chronic strain
  • Connective tissue disorder
  • Smoking
  • Obesity 
  • Family history

The symptoms for vaginal vault prolapse can vary and sometimes not present at all. More often, vaginal vault prolapse symptoms start slow and are more obvious over time. A pelvic floor physical therapist, urogynecologist, or an ob-gyn who specializes in pelvic floor disorders can find vaginal prolapse in routine exams. 

Learn more about Vaginal Vault Prolapse: Definition, Symptoms, and Treatments

Pelvic Floor Therapy

Pelvic floor therapy, also known as pelvic floor rehabilitation or pelvic floor physical therapy, is a specialized form of physical therapy that focuses on the evaluation and treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction. The pelvic floor refers to a group of muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues that support the organs within the pelvis, including the bladder, uterus or prostate, and rectum. Pelvic floor therapy aims to address issues such as weakness, tightness, or dysfunction of these muscles to restore optimal pelvic floor function.

Pelvic floor therapy is a comprehensive approach to addressing pelvic floor dysfunction and may involve various techniques and interventions tailored to each individual’s needs. The treatment plan is developed by a skilled pelvic floor physical therapist and may include the following components:

  • Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercises
  • Biofeedback
  • Manual Therapy
  • Education and Lifestyle Modifications
  • Behavioral and Relaxation Techniques
  • Electrical Stimulation
  • Home Exercise Program

Pelvic floor therapy is a collaborative process, empowering individuals to actively participate in their own healing and regain control over their pelvic health. The guidance and expertise of a pelvic floor physical therapist can make a significant difference in improving pelvic floor function, reducing symptoms, and enhancing overall quality of life.

Learn more about Pelvic Floor Therapy: Restoring Strength and Function

Pelvic Floor & Pregnancy

Taking care of the pelvic floor is crucial for women’s overall health and well-being, particularly during the transformative phases of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum recovery.

Before, During & After Pregnancy

When going through the journey of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum, is it important to consider the health of your pelvic floor for these key reasons:

  • Prevention and preparation
  • Support during pregnancy
  • Facilitating a smooth labor and delivery
  • Postpartum recovery and restoration
  • Enhancing quality of life

Learn more about Pregnancy and Your Pelvic Floor: The Importance of Considering Pelvic Floor Health Before, During, and After Pregnancy

Prenatal Considerations for Pelvic Floor

Pregnancy is a transformative journey that brings about many changes in a woman’s body, including significant impacts on the pelvic floor. It is important to nurture your pelvic health during this time to support a healthy pregnancy, prepare for labor and delivery, and promote postpartum recovery. Key factors involving the pelvic floor to consider:

  • Pelvic floor exercises
  • Proper body mechanics
  • Pelvic floor relaxation
  • Pelvic floor education
  • Optimal bladder and bowel habits
  • Pelvic floor support

Taking care of your pelvic floor during pregnancy can have long-lasting benefits for your overall pelvic health. By implementing these considerations and seeking appropriate guidance, you can support the strength, function, and resilience of your pelvic floor during this transformative time.

Learn more about Prenatal Considerations for the Pelvic Floor: Nurturing Your Pelvic Health Before Childbirth

Pelvic Floor During Pregnancy

The pelvic floor plays a pivotal role in supporting the developing fetus and adapting to the demands of pregnancy. During pregnancy, significant changes occur in your body, including changes to the pelvic floor. The pelvic floor muscles stretch and expand to accommodate the growing uterus and the weight of the baby. Hormonal changes, increased pressure on the pelvic organs, and the natural relaxation of ligaments can affect the strength, coordination, and function of the pelvic floor muscles. These changes can lead to various pelvic floor conditions or symptoms such as urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, pelvic organ prolapse, or perineal discomfort.

By focusing on strengthening, flexibility, and overall pelvic health, pelvic floor therapy offers an array of benefits that contribute to the well-being of both expectant mothers and their growing babies.

Learn more about Pelvic Floor Therapy During Pregnancy: Supporting Your Pelvic Health Journey

Postpartum Pelvic Floor

Bringing a new life into the world is a momentous and transformative event, marked by joy and wonder. However, the process of childbirth can also place considerable strain on a woman’s body, particularly on the intricate network of muscles known as the pelvic floor. As the body adjusts to the changes wrought by pregnancy and delivery, it’s essential to focus on postpartum recovery and pelvic health.

Pelvic floor therapy postpartum is beneficial for all women who have recently given birth, regardless of the mode of delivery. Pregnancy and childbirth can place significant stress on the pelvic floor muscles and surrounding tissues, leading to various pelvic floor conditions.  After childbirth, many new mothers may encounter various pelvic floor conditions that can impact their comfort and quality of life. These are some of the pelvic floor conditions that you may experience:

  • Diastasis Recti
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Pelvic organ prolapse
  • Perineal discomfort or pain

Learn more about Pelvic Floor Therapy Postpartum: Nurturing Your Pelvic Health After Childbirth

Pelvic Floor Therapist

Embarking on a journey towards pelvic health and well-being often requires more than just individual effort. Pelvic floor therapists emerge as invaluable partners in this pursuit, offering specialized expertise and guidance to address a wide array of pelvic concerns. With a deep understanding of the intricate musculature and functions of the pelvic region, these skilled professionals play a pivotal role in your pelvic health. 

A pelvic floor therapist, also known as a pelvic floor physical therapist or a pelvic health physiotherapist, is a healthcare professional who specializes in evaluating and treating pelvic floor dysfunction. These therapists have advanced training and expertise in the assessment, rehabilitation, and management of conditions affecting the pelvic floor muscles and associated structures. They play a critical role in helping individuals restore strength, function, and overall well-being of the pelvic floor.

You may benefit from seeing a pelvic floor therapist if you are experiencing symptoms or conditions related to the pelvic floor. Some situations where seeking the expertise of a pelvic floor therapist is recommended include:

  • Pelvic floor dysfunction
  • Pre and postpartum care
  • Pelvic pain conditions

By working collaboratively with a pelvic floor therapist, you can gain the knowledge, skills, and support needed to improve your pelvic floor function, manage your symptoms, and enhance your quality of life.

Learn more about Pelvic Floor Therapists: Your Partners in Pelvic Health

Pelvic Stretches, Exercises, & Tips

Maintaining a healthy pelvic floor is integral to overall well-being, yet it’s an aspect of health often overlooked. By combining targeted exercises that strengthen and support pelvic muscles, individuals can unlock a range of benefits that enhance their pelvic health and enjoy a more balanced and comfortable life.

Pelvic floor exercises, stretches, and relaxation techniques are essential components of maintaining and improving the health and function of your pelvic floor muscles. Here are some effective practices you can incorporate into your routine:

  • Pelvic Floor Exercises (Kegels)
  • Deep Breathing and Relaxation
  • Pelvic Stretches
  • Yoga and Pilates
  • Biofeedback and Electrical Stimulation
  • Mindfulness and Stress Reduction

Maintaining good pelvic health goes beyond specific exercises and therapies. Here are some general tips and lifestyle modifications that can contribute to long-term pelvic health:

  • Maintain a Balanced Diet
  • Stay Active
  • Practice Good Posture
  • Take Breaks from Prolonged Sitting
  • Avoid Straining During Bowel Movements
  • Manage Chronic Constipation
  • Practice Stress Management
  • Consider Pelvic Floor Massages
  • Explore Alternative Therapies

Remember that each person’s pelvic health journey is unique, and it’s important to work with healthcare professionals who specialize in pelvic floor health for individualized guidance and care. By incorporating these general tips into your lifestyle, you can promote ongoing pelvic health and well-being.

Get even more information on Pelvic Floor Exercises, Stretches, and Relaxation Tips