Building and maintaining a strong pelvic floor is crucial for women of all ages. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles at the bottom of your pelvis that supports the womb, bladder, and bowels. So if these muscles become weak—whether it's due to childbirth, pregnancy, aging, or weight gain—it may be challenging to control your bladder and bowel activity. This is referred to as incontinence, a condition that affects nearly 25 million Americans, 75% to 80% of which are women.
The pelvic floor is a combination of multiple muscles with ligamentous attachments creating a dome-shaped diaphragm across the boney pelvic outlet. This complex of muscles spans from the pubis (anterior) to the sacrum/coccyx (posterior) and bilateral to the ischial tuberosities. The bulk of the pelvic musculature is the levator ani, composed of the puborectalis, pubococcygeus, and iliococcygeus. The puborectalis wraps as a sling around the anorectal junction accentuating the anorectal angle during contraction and is a primary contributor to fecal continence. Elevation and support of the pelvic organs are associated with the pubococcygeus and the iliococcygeus. The pubococcygeus is the most medial component which separates, fashioning the levator hiatus with openings for the urethra, vagina (females), and anus. The bulbospongiosus and ischiocavernosus muscles are the primary contributors to the superficial portion of the anterior pelvic floor. The more superficial musculature of the posterior pelvic floor constitutes the external anal sphincter. The transverse perineal muscles cross the mid-portion of the superficial aspect of the pelvic floor and coalesce with the bulbospongiosus muscles and external anal sphincter as the perineal body.
^ Vesentini, Giovana; El Dib, Regina; Righesso, Leonardo Augusto Rachele; Piculo, Fernanda; Marini, Gabriela; Ferraz, Guilherme Augusto Rago; Calderon, Iracema de Mattos Paranhos; Barbosa, Angélica Mércia Pascon; Rudge, Marilza Vieira Cunha (2019). "Pelvic floor and abdominal muscle cocontraction in women with and without pelvic floor dysfunction: a systematic review and meta-analysis". Clinics. 74: e1319. doi:10.6061/clinics/2019/e1319. ISSN 1807-5932. PMC 6862713. PMID 31778432.
If you think of the pelvis as being the home to organs like the bladder, uterus (or prostate in men) and rectum, the pelvic floor muscles are the home’s foundation. These muscles act as the support structure keeping everything in place within your body. Your pelvic floor muscles add support to several of your organs by wrapping around your pelvic bone. Some of these muscles add more stability by forming a sling around the rectum.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is an umbrella term for a variety of disorders that occur when pelvic floor muscles and ligaments are impaired. Although this condition predominantly affects females, up to 16% of males suffer as well. Symptoms include pelvic pain, pressure, pain during sex, incontinence, incomplete emptying of feces, and visible organ protrusion. Tissues surrounding the pelvic organs may have increased or decreased sensitivity or irritation resulting in pelvic pain. Underlying causes of pelvic pain are often difficult to determine. The condition affects up to 50% of women who have given birth.
Biofeedback is now the most common treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction. It is usually done with the help of a physical therapist and it improves the condition for 75% of patients, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It is non-invasive, and after working with a physical therapist, you may be able to use a home unit to continue with this therapy.
Patients may meet individually with a dedicated nurse educator who provides a focused session on bowel management techniques. Central to the process is a daily regimen that combines an evening dose of fiber supplement with a morning routine of mild physical activity; a hot, preferably caffeinated beverage; and, possibly, a fiber cereal followed by another cup of a hot beverage — all within 45 minutes of waking. This routine augments early morning high-amplitude peristaltic contractions by incorporating multiple colon stimulators.
^ Bernard, Stéphanie; Ouellet, Marie-Pier; Moffet, Hélène; Roy, Jean-Sébastien; Dumoulin, Chantale (April 2016). "Effects of radiation therapy on the structure and function of the pelvic floor muscles of patients with cancer in the pelvic area: a systematic review". Journal of Cancer Survivorship. 10 (2): 351–362. doi:10.1007/s11764-015-0481-8. hdl:1866/16374. ISSN 1932-2259. PMID 26314412. S2CID 13563337.
Reduces the chances of pelvic organ prolapse. Pelvic organ prolapse is a health condition in which the pelvic floor muscles are so weak that they can’t support the pelvic organs (bladder, cervix, uterus, and rectum). During a pelvic organ prolapse, one or more of the pelvic organs falls down into the vagina, creating a bulge. Since pelvic floor exercises strengthen the pelvic muscles, they can help prevent the muscles from becoming too weak and allowing prolapse.