Although many centers are familiar with retraining techniques to improve pelvic floor dysfunction, few have the multidisciplinary expertise to teach patients with constipation how to appropriately coordinate abdominal and pelvic floor muscles during defecation, and how to use bowel management techniques, along with behavior modification, to relieve symptoms. Because pelvic floor dysfunction can be associated with psychological, sexual or physical abuse and other life stressors, psychological counseling is often included in the evaluation process.
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.
^ Masterson, Thomas A.; Masterson, John M.; Azzinaro, Jessica; Manderson, Lattoya; Swain, Sanjaya; Ramasamy, Ranjith (October 2017). "Comprehensive pelvic floor physical therapy program for men with idiopathic chronic pelvic pain syndrome: a prospective study". Translational Andrology and Urology. 6 (5): 910–915. doi:10.21037/tau.2017.08.17. PMC 5673826. PMID 29184791.
Biofeedback uses electrodes placed on your body (on the perineum and/or the area around the anus) or probes inserted in the vagina or rectum to sense the degree of tenseness in your pelvic floor muscles. Results displayed on a computer or other device provide cues to help you learn to relax those muscles. Usually, patients feel relief after six to eight weeks of therapy. You may be able to buy or rent a unit to use at home.
You’ve likely already heard of kegels, the most common method for strengthening the pelvic floor. But there are plenty of additional exercises you can try to help train your pelvic floor. Watch this video to see yoga and fitness expert Kristin McGee (who recently gave birth to twins!) demonstrate three simple yet effective moves for strengthening your pelvic floor.
For internal massage, your PT may insert a finger into the vagina or rectum and massage the muscles and connective tissue directly. A frequently used technique is “Thiele stripping,” in which your therapist finds a trigger point by feeling a twitch in the muscle underneath, exercising it using a circular motion, and then putting pressure on it to help relax it, repeating the process until the muscle starts to release. Internal massage can also help release nerves. Sometimes, anesthetics can be injected into these trigger points. PTs may do this in a few states, but in most states, a doctor or nurse must administer injections.
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.
Many people with interstitial cystitis (IC) have problems with the group of muscles in the lower pelvic area and develop a condition called pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD). If you have IC and a poor urine stream, feel the need to push or bear down to urinate, and have painful intercourse, you may have PFD. Treating PFD may be very helpful in reducing symptoms and pain for some IC patients—most patients see improvement after several weeks of therapy.
Once patients with pelvic floor constipation have these basic tools, they can begin retraining the pelvic floor muscles with biofeedback. Based on the principle of operant conditioning, biofeedback provides auditory and visual feedback to help retrain the pelvic floor and relax the anal sphincter. Biofeedback training is the treatment of choice for medically refractory pelvic floor constipation, with some studies showing improvement in more than 70 percent of patients. Patients also learn to identify internal sensations associated with relaxation and long-term skills and exercises for use at home.
In order for the processes of urination and defecation to go smoothly, the various muscles within the pelvis need to act in a coordinated manner. In some cases, the muscles contract when they should be relaxing, or the muscles do not relax sufficiently to facilitate coordinated movement. Problems with the pelvic floor muscles can lead to urinary difficulties and bowel dysfunction. PFD is experienced by both men and women.
A defecating proctogram is a test where you’re given an enema of a thick liquid that can be seen with an X-ray. Your provider will use a special video X-ray to record the movement of your muscles as you attempt to push the liquid out of the rectum. This will help to show how well you are able to pass a bowel movement or any other causes for pelvic floor dysfunction. This test is not painful.
Cleveland Clinic’s Ob/Gyn & Women’s Health Institute is committed to providing world-class care for women of all ages. We offer women's health services, obstetrics and gynecology throughout Northeast Ohio and beyond. Whether patients are referred to us or already have a Cleveland Clinic ob/gyn, we work closely with them to offer treatment recommendations and follow-up care to help you receive the best outcome.
Nicole Davis is a writer based in Madison, WI, a personal trainer, and a group fitness instructor whose goal is to help women live stronger, healthier, happier lives. When she’s not working out with her husband or chasing around her young daughter, she’s watching crime TV shows or making sourdough bread from scratch. Find her on Instagram for fitness tidbits, #momlife and more.