More than one third of women have problems regarding pelvic floor heath. This is quite a high proportion. In France, after the birth, the state provides the new moms with free of charge exercise courses for pelvic floor health. In Germany, the insurance companies cover the cost. In this way, the companies minimize the probable costs that might ensue in the later years as they would cover the treatment expenses of related disorders, in other words, they take precautions to prevent further problems. Wisely done. If only there were more support like this for other disorders so as to prevent them.
What are pelvic floor muscles and what do they do?
Pelvic floor muscles are a group of muscles and connective tissues that hold and support our organs which lie within the pelvis (the bladder, uterus, vagina, and the last section of the colon), that encircle the urethra, vagina and anus, and control the release of urine and feces. Pelvic floor muscles also help us have better orgasms. Thus they are considerably important. When we are pregnant, they support our uterus and our growing baby. We need the same pelvic muscles to push and deliver the baby.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, a lot of women suffer from pelvic floor disorders at a time in their lives.
These disorders include things such as; – stress incontinence (peeing a bit when you cough, sneeze, laugh, or exercise), – overactive bladder (having a frequent urge to pee or having to get up to pee at night), – prolapse (when the organs of the pelvic floor, such as the bladder, uterus, and bowel, begin to fall out of place), – bowel incontinence (having a hard time controlling when you pass gas or have a bowel movement). And the common problems that are related to the health of the pelvis are: – lumbar spinal problems – sacroiliac, hip or sciatic pain – bladder weakness – digestive, menstrual and sexual difficulties
There are various contributing factors related to these disorders and problems. For instance one of them is aging. Our muscle tone decreases as we age. I’ve read that we lose an average of 5% of our muscle tone every 10 years in our lives. The number of babies we’ve given birth to also contribute to this fact. Regardless of the type of delivery, whether it is vaginal or c-section, studies show that not the birth itself but carrying the baby, especially in the third trimester, leads to pelvic floor weakness. Excess weight, obesity also cause pelvic floor problems. Our posture is an important factor as well. Our way of sitting and standing have considerable impact on our pelvic floor health. There are correct postures in sitting and standing too, and especially if you have pelvic floor problems you should really pay attention to these.
Biomechanics Expert Katy Bowman mentions that pelvic floor problems primarily originate from the pelvic floor laxity developed as a result of the movement of the sacrum anteriorly into the pelvic bowl. In other words, pelvic floor muscles are attached both to the pubic bone and the coccyx. As these two bones close up, laxity occurs on the pelvic floor like a hammock. By poor seated and standing postures, this anterior movement of the sacrum is repeatedly intensified. On the other hand, aging, pregnancy and obesity also contribute to this condition.
Another potential problem is that the muscles in this part of the body are too tight. The constant contraction of the related muscles in states of stress, anxiety as well as fear (a study conducted has ascertained that pelvic floor muscles contract while watching a horror movie) leads to this tension. When the muscles are tight they are actually weak. Doing exercises to tighten or strengthen these muscles only makes it worse. Instead, doing exercises to stretch muscles (especially exercises to stretch the hamstring muscles and calves) proves notably useful.
How about the Kegel Exercises?!
The Kegel exercises are named after Dr. Kegel who was a gynecologist. Dr. Kegel had developed an instrument and a technique to improve the muscle tone after childbirth. Briefly, the technique consists of repeatedly contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles in a period of time.
While these exercises aim to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, contrarily, they cause the inward movement of the sacrum promoting even more weakness due to the aforesaid reason. Kegel exercises are basically exercises of muscular contractions. For women who already have too tight pelvic muscles, focusing on contracting the muscles regularly will cause the tension to increase in this area.
On the other hand the Kegels are recommended to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles as well. In relation to this Katy says “Think for a moment, your are told to sit on a chair, and repeatedly tighten and relax your quadriceps in order to strengthen them. To what extent could it be effective? We can strengthen the muscles more effectively with functional movements- by moving the muscle as it is designed to move.”
I do not say that the Kegel exercises are completely useless, they are indeed helpful to raise awareness regarding pelvic floor muscles. Just you don’t need to do them 60-70 times a day or feel guilty about it when you didn’t do them or worry that your muscle tone will not recover if you don’t exercise or that there will be likely tears during birth.
Well then, what should we do?
There are various bodyworks that work both for firming and softening muscles. Additionally, how we inhale and exhale have significant impact on our pelvic floor muscles so there are breathing techniques. After that, it is important to improve the seated and standing postures. I can hint that the most important thing to do is to exercise squats. Let’s learn the reason why squatting is vital, the proper squat techniques, breathing techniques, specific yoga poses and exercises for different pelvic floor problems, as we all together experience them on our own bodies, in the pelvic floor health workshops that I will be giving in Ankara on January 31st, and in İstanbul on February 13th.
For the details of the workshop in Ankara (in English) you can click here, and for the details of the workshop in İstanbul you can click here. The workshop in Ankara is almost full, so if you’d like to attend the workshops I recommend that you contact as soon as possible.