The low-down on those down-low muscles – the pelvic floor

Did you know that everyone has a pelvic floor? Yes, even you, Male Reader! The pelvic floor is made up of two layers of muscle, and together these muscles are responsible for many functions, including:

  • Supporting the lower abdominal organs inside the body (bladder and bowel for men; bladder, bowel and uterus for women)
  • Providing bladder and bowel continence
pelvic floor
Female pelvic cross-section, courtesy David Faber

The pelvic floor runs from your pubic bone (at the front of your pelvis), to your tailbone, or coccyx (at the back of your pelvis), and between your sit-bones. The pelvic floor usually gets a mention after women have given birth – throughout pregnancy and following labour mums are constantly told they should “do your pelvic floor exercises”. And while for most women this is true, a lot of women don’t know where to start! The reason women hear about pelvic floor muscles more than men is because during pregnancy the pelvic floor supports the developing baby and assists in the delivery of the baby during labour. But the pelvic floor is also involved in stabilisation of the pelvis and spine for everyone (men, women and children!) along with the diaphragm, and deep muscles of the back and core. So it’s not just women who can have problems with their pelvic floor. Some of the reasons for pelvic floor problems include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Child birth
  • Poor lifting technique
  • Constipation
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Chronic coughing
  • Obesity

(You’ll see only two of those factors are specific to females!) The other thing to note is that pelvic floor weakness is not the only problem that can occur – pelvic floor tightness can be just as much of an issue. There are some good general things you can do to maintain healthy pelvic floor function, which include:

  • Maintain or work towards a healthy weight
  • Ensure your diet contains the right amount of fibre from fruit, vegetables and grains
  • Stay well hydrated
  • Get moving – reduce time sitting, and get regular exercise in
  • Maintain good bowel habits – go when you need to go!
  • Practice safe manual handling techniques – whether it be at work or at home

If you’re concerned about your pelvic floor function, particularly if you’ve had children, we recommend you see your physiotherapist or exercise physiologist. Your therapist will assess the severity of the problem, and either work with you to re-train your pelvic floor muscles (and address any other contributing factors), or refer you on to a specialist Continence & Women’s Health, or Pelvic Floor physiotherapist.   For more information, also check out: Continence Foundation of Australia Wonder Women

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