Your pelvic floor is about more than just kegels and continence. It’s an incredible structure that’s responsible for so much of your day-to-day, and if you ask us, it’s pretty underrated.
If you’re here because you want to learn a bit more about your amazing pelvic floor, or you’re not sure why you should even care, you’re in the right place.
In this blog we’re going to cover some pelvic floor basics, mainly focusing on the big kahuna, the pelvic floor muscles. We’ll cover what the pelvic floor is, what it does, and why you should care.
We could write a whole book on the pelvic floor and still not cover every lovely detail, but we know most people aren’t as obsessed as we are, so we’re going to keep this pretty high level and try not to bore you with too much scientific detail.
In part two of our pelvic floor basics series we cover pelvic floor dysfunction, in part three we talk about how to treat and prevent pelvic floor problems, and in part four we cover the importance of breathing and why you’re probably doing it wrong.
The pelvic floor is a complex, intricate, and if you ask us, beautiful arrangement of muscles, nerves, tendons, blood vessels, ligaments and connective tissue. You hear a lot about women’s pelvic floors because they’re much more likely to have some kind of dysfunction, but men alsohave a pelvic floor (so don’t worry, it’s not like they’re missing out on any of the fun).
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.
Even though you can’t see your pelvic floor muscles, you can learn how to consciously control them. Cool, right?!
The easiest way to get your head around all this is to visualise it and we reckon these videos from Anatomyzone are the best.
Your pelvic floor muscles impact almost every part of your life. Socialising, moving about, going to work, having sex and going to the toilet. You name it, your pelvic floor is probably helping out in one way or another.
The pelvic floor muscles are totally underrated and underappreciated, a bit like Beyonce’s backup dancers. They’ve got an important job, but you don’t really notice them unless they stuff it up.
Those holes that we mentioned earlier that allow your urethra, anus and vagina to exit your pelvis? Well, your pelvic floor muscles wrap securely around those holes to keep the passages shut. The muscles around your urethra and anus form small circles called sphincters which can close and relax at will. If things are working how they should you have ultimate control over when and where you empty your bowels and bladder (e.g. when you’re on the toilet and not when you’re doing zumba).
Because they surround and support your sex organs, your pelvic floor muscles are also central to your sex life. If your pelvic floor isn’t working how it should sex can be pretty painful and uncomfortable. On the other hand, if you have a strong pelvic floor and you’re in tune with how to control and coordinate the muscles, you might be able to achieve greater heights and sensations during sex. We’re talking about those earth-shattering, only-in-the-movies, I’ll-have-what-she’s-having orgasms.
Your pelvic floor muscles also counteract intra-abdominal pressure. Intra-abdominal what!? Let us explain. When you jump, cough, sneeze or laugh you force pressure on your abdomen. Your clever little pelvic floor muscles counteract this pressure— keeping your organs where they are meant to be (inside your body) and stopping stuff like urine from leaking out.
Finally, your pelvic floor muscles do quite a bit of heavy lifting in terms of supporting your hips, spine and lower back. Helping you do simple stuff like get out of bed and drive your car and more complex stuff like rock climbing and salsa dancing!
Your pelvic floor muscles are responsible for helping you keep your sh*t together (both literally and figuratively) so when something goes wrong it’s impossible to ignore.
If your pelvic floor muscles aren’t working effectively you can have pain and symptoms ranging from mildly annoying (needing to know where the bathroom is at all times) to completely debilitating (sex so painful it’s impossible).
More than one in four Australians suffer bladder or bowel incontinence. And one in three women who’ve had a baby have some form of urine leakage. But less than 40 per cent of Australians with these problems actually seek help! (Source: Continence Foundation of Australia© 2015).
We think this is totally unacceptable. We believe all women deserve to feel confident in their bodies and lead amazing lives. But it’s hard to feel empowered when you’re experiencing pain, wetting your pants or shying away from sex. Just because pelvic floor dysfunction is common doesn’t make it normal or acceptable. It can be treated, managed or sometimes even completely fixed with the right help and support.
Understanding how your pelvic floor works means you won't ignore those small niggly problems, like the occasional leak when you're exercising. You can advocate confidently for your health whether you're seeking treatment for something small, or for more serious dysfunction. And you can start to learn and understand more about how you can optimise your pelvic health (link to part 3 blog), like learning how to breathe correctly (link to part four blog).
But having a basic understanding of your anatomy, knowing what’s normal and what’s not, and feeling confident about advocating for your health are really important. Don’t let anyone tell you you have to put up with pain and symptoms! We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again (and again, and again) pelvic floor dysfunction is common but it is not normal.
Pelvic floor basics part two— pelvic floor dysfunction
Pelvic floor basics part three— how to treat and prevent pelvic floor problems
Pelvic floor basics part four— breathing, you’re doing it wrong