Our Guest blog this week is by Fiona Morgan, Woman's Health Physiotherapist, MCSP, HCPC.
Fiona from Clifton Physiotherapy is originally from South Africa and has been working in the area of women's health for the last 6 years. She has made it her goal to educate as many people about their pelvic floor as possible, and for that we are very grateful! Here's what she has to say about how your plumbing works..
Like a car needs an annual MOT to check it's still in working order, so do our own bodies. One area of the body that can get overlooked when we think of our health check list is the pelvic floor and yet, this area of our bodies is so important.
Unless you've had any issues “down there”, you're probably not very sure where your pelvic floor is or what it does. Your pelvic floor is housed at the bottom your pelvis (the bony area that joins your spine to your hips) and is made up of 3 layers of 12 muscles, slinging from the front of your pelvis (below your naval), to the back by your coccyx and connecting on the sides by your sitting bones. It creates a trampoline-like area that is involved in protecting and supporting the pelvic and abdominal organs, maintaining continence over the bladder and bowel, allowing for good movement around the pelvis, spine and hips and not to be forgotten, quite important for sexual functioning. While the design of the pelvic floor differs a little between women and men, the way it works and what it's needed for, is mostly the same.
The muscles in the pelvic floor work best in an endurance capacity, with a little bit of power strength thrown in for when we have a cough, a sneeze, a laugh or a particularly steep hill to walk. The pelvic floor helps to make up the 4 deep core muscles, namely transverse abdominus, the diaphragm and multifidus. Together the core creates a supportive “cylinder” around the middle of the body which allows for the balanced and co-ordinated work of the upper body, spine and the lower body during movement and especially resistive exercise – Hello, Nordic Walking!
Issues with the pelvic floor arise when there is either a weakness, an over-working / tightness or a restriction in the way the muscles function together, much like any other muscle group in our body e.g. your neck or shoulders. Our bodies are very good at compensating and they can do this for a while but eventually symptoms such as pain, leaks or lack of movement, will be felt. Help is at hand in the form of Women's Health / Pelvic Health Physiotherapists who deal specifically with issues surrounding the pelvis and pelvic floor. However, prevention is always better than cure!
It is important to maintain a strong pelvic floor that can handle and adapt to different movements and loads you place on your body. However, overly tight Pelvic Floor muscles can be mistaken for a strong pelvic floor and this can be as detrimental as weak or overly loose pelvic floor muscles. Just like any other muscle, the pelvic floor muscles need to be able to tighten, relax and stretch a little in order to maintain good functionality. This can be easier said than done. One of the more vital things that we all need to be able to do to maintain good pelvic health is become aware of those muscles and build up your ability to tell if your muscles are over working, working well or not working enough. Once you've mastered that (and it does take a while to build up this awareness called proprioception) it's more simple to balance the muscles in how they should work.
So, the next time you're thinking of doing a pelvic floor squeeze, remember to also think of letting that squeeze go and relaxing too. Just to strike a balance.
If you would like to find out more about how to keep your pelvic floor muscles healthy, come along to the interactive 1 hr workshop at Clifton Physiotherapy Clinic (date coming soon).