You may have read or heard the term ‘pelvic wellness’. But how much do you know about your pelvic health? Do you even really know what or where it is? You’d like to think you’re aware of the phase of female reproduction you are going through right now, whether it is active menstruation, post-childbirth, or perimenopause, but are you aware of the changes that come with each of these phases? Or how they affect your pelvic health?
A prelude to Pelvic Wellness
Pelvic wellness implies that the area below the belt is fully functional and free from any disorder or disease. This area includes the organs of reproduction (uterus, vagina, ovaries, vulva, etc.), the bladder, and bowels. These organs are protected by the pelvic bones and supported by the pelvic floor. The function of this floor is within its name; it provides a base, a foundation for the pelvic organs.
But what exactly is this floor? Well, it is a group of muscles that fan out between the two pelvic bones and the tailbone, essentially forming a kind of hammock. The strength of this hammock ensures the sturdiness and functionality of the pelvic organs. Because when the pelvic floor weakens, the pelvic organs, in essence, are not supported, and can potentially collapse, consequently giving rise to pelvic floor disorders.
At times the pelvic floor muscles can become too tight. This tightness will restrict the function and movement of the pelvic organs, resulting in pelvic dysfunction.
Who are the culprits?
Women are more vulnerable to this damage to the pelvic floor. And the answer is within the sex itself. Our bodies go through an assortment of changes, every month, our body resolves around the fluctuating estrogen levels. No month is the same.
The factors that can increase the risk of pelvic floor damage are:
● pregnancy and childbirth
● intense physical activity
● prior pelvic surgery
Pelvic floor damage most commonly occurs after childbirth. During delivery, trauma occurs to the pelvic area. This trauma can result in tears, muscle and tissue weakness, and nerve damage.
A breakdown of disorders that affect your Pelvic Wellness
Pelvic floor disorders arise due to weak pelvic floor muscles. When this happens, it usually results in pelvic organ prolapse, which means an organ drops from its original position. Examples of this include:
● Cystocele (Bladder Prolapse)
● Enterocele (Prolapse of the Small Bowel)
● Rectocele (Prolapse of the Rectum)
● Vaginal or Uterine Prolapse
On the other hand, pelvic floor dysfunction is when the muscles are too tight, and their contractions are uncoordinated. Pelvic floor dysfunction can occur following childbirth, heavy lifting, or straining (such as during chronic constipation).
Although the mechanism with which they damage the pelvic floor is quite different, pelvic floor disorders and pelvic dysfunction give rise to similar symptoms.
What can you experience when your Pelvic Floor is damaged?
● Difficulty in passing urine, being unable to empty the bladder fully, or feeling of fullness after emptying the bladder
● Painful urination: a burning sensation during or after urination
● Incontinence: involuntary leakage of urine
● Fecal incontinence: the inability to hold in stool voluntarily
● Pelvic heaviness or fullness
● A bulge in the vagina
● Organs bulging out of the vagina
● Pulling or aching feeling in the pelvis
● Lower back pain
● Sexual dysfunction
Why is Pelvic Wellness significant?
Approximately over one-third of women in the US alone lead a substandard quality of life due to problems related to pelvic wellness. In the UK in 2019, 8.4% of women reported a vaginal bulge/lump. And yet, on examination, pelvic organ prolapse was present in up to 50% of women.
Generally, pelvic disorders and dysfunction are pretty common in women all around the world. However, we are often hesitant to seek help for our pelvic issues. We may feel embarrassed talking about these intimate issues. Or some of us may be afraid to experience a lack of warmth and understanding from our doctors.
Nevertheless, it is essential to understand that issues relating to pelvic health are more common than you may think and no more embarrassing than any other medical condition.
What can you do for your Pelvic Wellness?
Pelvic floor exercises, and Kegels, strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. Research demonstrates that consistently performing pelvic floor exercises will reduce pelvic floor disorder symptoms and improve quality of life. However, it is imperative to know that Kegels are not the only solution, and not the solution for pelvic floor dysfunction (when the pelvic floor muscles cannot relax). If you are unsure you are doing Kegels correctly, devices are available to assist you.
Talking to your doctor about your pelvic health issues is also crucial. If you feel like your doctor does not understand your struggle, do tell them that. If you are curious about a treatment, share your curiosity. Or maybe you are doubtful about whether you are doing your pelvic floor exercises correctly; convey your doubt. Medical treatment varies from medication such as estrogen cream, a referal to a Pelvic Health physical therapist, to a surgical fix for severely impairing symptoms.
Pelvic Health Physical Therapists are the gurus when it comes to your pelvic health. A Pelvic Health physical therapist is specifically trained to recognise and relieve the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, helping the muscles work the way they should. A visit to a Pelvic Health PT can be fundamental in treating many uncomfortable or painful conditions involving the pelvic floor.
Yoga can be a form of meditation or a strengthening workout. This means that depending on your mood, you can go for a relaxing practice to soothe your mind from your health issue or take the proactive approach and strengthen your core muscles. Strong core muscles support the pelvic floor muscles, improving their function.
Pilates is a fantastic core-strengthening workout. In addition to improving flexibility and balance, pilates will also boost pelvic floor function.
Nutrition and regular exercise play a significant role in maintaining hormone levels. Nutrient-dense and fibrous foods keep the hormone levels in check and keep our bowels moving. Avoiding caffeinated beverages and alcohol will reduce episodes of urinary incontinence. These minor changes to our daily routine can notably improve our quality of life.
Reiki is a natural healing art from Japan that supports the body’s self-healing ability. It is a gentle practice that helps balance restoration, thus improving physical and mental health. In a session, the practitioner will lightly place their hands on or directly above the affected area of the body. The body responds to this hand placement with a relaxation response, resulting in decreased anxiety and pain. In this manner, regular Reiki sessions can reduce pain in the bladder and pelvic pain disorders.
Communicate with others about what you are going through. There are several online communities where women share their struggles with attaining pelvic wellness. By participating in these forums, you will know that you are not alone. There are many more women out there, fighting the same battle.
We understand how these pelvic floor disorders/dysfunction can substantially affect the quality of life. It sets you back from your goals in life, a barrier to your professional life and personal relationships. Addressing the symptoms and opting for treatment can make an enormous difference in your life.