We live in a day where people are becoming increasingly more open minded. Sexuality, religion, and politics used to be on the list of taboo dinner party topics, but now seem to be brought up and discussed everywhere (especially on social media). While we might be more comfortable talking about these taboo practices and sharing more of ourselves with others, one topic that still tends to be avoided is aging. No one wants to talk about the changes that come with growing older, both physically and mentally. The only time we hear about pelvic floor health is in “trendy” publications or websites, and it’s usually in a sexual context or mentioned as an important part of a core-blasting workout. In reality, we all have a pelvic floor that plays an important function in our bodies, and as we age, changes to it could impact urinary and digestive health.
What is the Pelvic Floor?
Scientifically speaking, the pelvic floor can be described as “the layer of muscles that support the pelvic organs and span the bottom of the pelvis.” What is supported by the pelvic floor varies depending on sex, with pelvic organs in men being the bladder, bowel, and prostate, and in women, being the bladder, bowel, and uterus. By contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, we are able to control bowel and bladder movements.
Weakened Pelvic Floor Complications
Although we are all equipped with a pelvic floor, we rarely think about the group of muscles until something is wrong or out of place. A weakened pelvic floor may lead to the following complications:
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction – According to the Cleveland Clinic, Pelvic Floor Dysfunction is the inability to correctly contract and relax the muscles in the pelvic floor to have a bowel movement. People suffering from Pelvic Floor Dysfunction contract, rather than relax the muscles to have a bowel movement, resulting in difficulty or incompletion of the movement. As a result, leaks or accidents may occur. The symptoms include:
- The feeling that you need to have several bowel movements during a short period of time.
- The feeling that you cannot complete a bowel movement.
- Constipation, or straining pain with bowel movements.
- Leakage of stool/urine with or without your awareness.
- A frequent need to urinate. When you do go, you may stop and start many times.
- Painful urination.
- Pain in your lower back that cannot be explained by other causes.
- Ongoing pain in your pelvic region, genitals, or rectum with or without a bowel movement.
- Pain during intercourse (experienced by women).
Urinary Incontinence – A weakened pelvic floor may lead to urinary incontinence regardless of being diagnosed with Pelvic Floor Dysfunction or not. There are several kinds of incontinence, with one of the most common kinds being Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI), the unintentional loss of urine during an activity or action like coughing, running, or laughing.
Fecal Incontinence – Fecal incontinence is “the inability to control your bowel movements, causing stool (feces) to leak unexpectedly from your rectum. Also called bowel or anal incontinence, fecal incontinence can range from occasional leakage of a small quantity of stool while passing gas to a complete loss of bowel control.”
Pelvic Organ Prolapse – When the pelvic floor muscles become weak, one or more of the pelvic organs can drop, either pressing against or out of a pelvic opening (vagina and/or rectum). Symptoms vary depending on sex, but common signs include:
- Bulging or pressure from the vagina
- Heaviness, fullness, pressure
- A sense that something is falling out
- Pelvic pressure
- Trouble emptying your bowel and bladder completely
- Urine leakage, frequency, chronic urinary tract infections, difficulty urinating
- Protrusion of the rectum out of the anus
- Difficult bowel movements or trapping of stool
- Lower backache
- Painful intercourse (dyspareunia) because of a bulge or protrusion
A weakened pelvic floor may sound scary, given the array of possible consequences, but it’s actually more common than one might think. There are plenty of causes and risk factors associated with your pelvic floor becoming weak or damaged, ranging from medical history to diet. The following may contribute to the weakening of the pelvic floor:
- Being overweight or obese
- Heavy lifting
- Pelvic surgical procedures such as prostatectomy or hysterectomy.
- Chronic coughing
- Straining on the toilet
For those not yet suffering from a weakened pelvic floor, there are things to reduce your risk – eat a fiber-rich diet, don’t smoke, and keep an eye on your weight. For those who have already felt the impact of a weak pelvic floor, the most common solutions include:
Kegels – These are exercises aimed at restrengthening the pelvic floor. Kegels are done by contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles in intervals several times a day. For a guide on how to locate these muscles, click here.
Pads,Liners and Bladder Support – For those experiencing urinary and/or fecal incontinence as a result of a weakened pelvic floor, various kinds of disposable pads, liners, and undergarments were made just for that. It is important to change these products several times a day to prevent irritation, infection, and odor. For women suffering from SUI as a result of a weakened pelvic floor, options like Revive® are comfortable, effective, and can prevent leaks for up to 12 hours a day. All of these products can be purchased over-the-counter at your local retailer.