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Pelvic floor dysfunction

Written by Emma McGeorge

Pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms can vary and manifest in different ways – let’s explore some of the most common.

Pelvic floor dysfunction, which is a blanket term that describes issues with pelvic floor muscles and other pelvic organs, can manifest in several different ways and has a variety of root causes. Whatever is going on with your pelvic floor, the condition can be frustrating to deal with. Thankfully, there are ways to treat and manage pelvic floor dysfunction.

What is The Pelvic Floor and What Does it Mean When it Dysfunctions?

The pelvic floor is a complex, intricate, and if you ask us, beautiful arrangement of muscles, nerves, tendons, blood vessels, ligaments and connective tissue. 

Your pelvic floor muscles span the base of your pelvis forming a kind of hammock or trampoline. The four corners of the trampoline stretch from the pubic bone in the front to the tailbone in the back and across to each of the sit bones. If your pelvic floor muscles are in good shape your trampoline will be thick, taut and supple, flexing easily as you breathe and go about your day.

Your bladder, bowel and uterus (if you’re a woman) lie on top of your pelvic floor muscles and there’s a hole for passages to pass through and exit your pelvis. In men those passages are the urethra and anus, and in women those passages are the urethra, anus and vagina.

 Your pelvic floor helps control the passage of urine, feces, and gas. When your pelvic floor is contracted, it effectively closes up the openings of your vagina, urethra and anus. When it’s relaxed, it lets urine and feces exit your body, and allows you to have sex.

Pelvic floor dysfunction is a condition whereby you experience pain or dysfunction directly in your pelvic floor. There are many different pelvic floor disorders, but any one of them can result in issues such as being unable to contract or relax your pelvic floor muscles to pass urine or bowel movements, or have sex. Pelvic floor dysfunction can also lead to pain or issues in areas that are influenced by the pelvic floor like your hips or low back.

What Are the Symptoms of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?

Like any muscles the pelvic floor can be too tight, too weak or experience changes in length or sensation. This can irritate nerves and impact any of the organs in that gorgeous pelvic bowl of yours.

Pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms may include:

  • Constant need to urinate
  • Pain during urination or when passing bowel movements
  • Constipation
  • Stool or urine leakage
  • Painful periods
  • Dyspareunia (pain during intercourse)
  • Pelvic floor muscle spasm
  • Discomfort, aching, throbbing or burning pain in pelvic area and lower back
  • Hip, groin or tailbone pain

What Causes Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?

There are a few reasons why pelvic floor dysfunction or pelvic floor disorders might occur. Often, the pelvic muscles become weaker due to pressure (such as through being pregnant, overweight or experiencing constipation), age (muscles weaken over time), and a lack of muscle strength. 

Some of the most common causes include:

  • Being obese or overweight
  • Menopause
  • Getting older
  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Damage to nerves around the pelvic area
  • Injury to the pelvic region
  • Pelvic surgery or radiation treatment
  • Heavy lifting including weight-lifting
  • Constant straining to go to the toilet
  • Chronic coughing
  • Inflammation of any organs- IBS, Interstitial Cystitis, UTI, Endometriosis etc

How Can I Manage Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?

Get professional guidance

If you’re experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction get connected with a women’s health specialist (like a gynecologist or pelvic health physiotherapist) to receive an assessment of your pelvic muscle groups. They’ll be able to pinpoint what’s really going on, and guide you on the right treatment pathways for your specific issues.

Possible Treatments for Pelvic Floor Disorders

Just because you’re experiencing one of any number of pelvic floor disorders doesn’t mean that you have to put up with the pain and discomfort that accompany one. Treating pelvic floor dysfunction can aid in reducing pelvic pain, reducing or even eliminating issues like urinary incontinence, pain during bowel movements, or pain during intercourse. 

Physical therapy can often help strengthen weakened pelvic muscles, and a qualified physiotherapist can walk you through the steps of certain pelvic floor exercises that you can do at home. For tight or overstressed pelvic floor muscle issues, deep tissue massage using a pelvic wand or another physical therapy device can aid in providing relief to tender points and trigger points in pelvic floor muscles as well; there are also pelvic floor exercises that can help you learn to relax your body as well, which will aid in releasing tension from pelvic floor muscle groups.

Additionally, it’s important to mention that some pelvic floor muscle issues can have a mental or  emotional component as well. Emotional stress has a well-documented phsycial impact on our bodies, and being in long-term situations where you repeatedly feel stressed, such as being subjected to certain types of physical, mental, or sexual abuse, can result in physiological changes that can cause health issues. Muscle tension is one of those issues, and your pelvic floor muscle groups are just as susceptible to this sort of overstimulation. 

Women who have endured sexual abuse are especially susceptible to these issues, even well after they are no longer in the abusive relationship that led to the stress in the first place. Many women are so tense that intercourse with new, non-abusive partners may be either painful or completely impossible. In situations such as these, speaking to a mental health care provider is a crucial part of the process, one that is just as important as seeing a doctor or physiotherapist.

Luckily, just as there are many causes of pelvic floor dysfunction, there are also many solutions. Check with your provider to explore your options today!