In women, the pelvic floor consists of muscles, bones, ligaments, connective tissues, and nerves that attach to the pelvic bone and sacrum. Like a “sling” or “hammock” the pelvic floor support the pelvic organs, spine, and pelvic girdle and assist with urinary, sexual, and defecatory function. A pelvic floor disorder (PFD) happens when the pelvic floor becomes weak or injured which can result in various symptoms such as impaired voiding or defecation, pelvic pain, and sexual dysfunction.
The most common types of PFD are pelvic organ prolapse, urinary and fecal incontinence. Symptoms of PFD includes urgent and frequent need to urinate, hard time starting to urinate or completely emptying the bladder, leaking urine when laughing, coughing, or with exercise, painful urination, frequent urinary tract infections; pain or pressure in the rectum or vagina, see or feel bulging in the rectum or vagina, pain or straining during bowel movements, pelvic muscle spasms, and painful intercourse for women.
Several conditions may cause PFD. These conditions include: pregnancy and childbirth (with risk increasing with each additional birth); being overweight; constant straining during bowel movements; and repeated heavy lifting. Other contributing factors include age (the pelvic floor can weaken with age in some women), genetic predisposition, or having radiation treatment or surgery in the pelvic region, both of which can damage the tissues and muscles there.
The National Institutes of Health states that more than one third of women in the U.S. have a PFD. It’s often a debilitating condition and can adversely affect quality of life. The good news is that PFD is a treatable condition; a physical therapist can help.
The physical therapist will tailor an individualized treatment plan to help alleviate the symptoms. Common treatments are: exercises and biofeedback to re-educate and train muscles of the pelvic floor and surrounding muscles and joints; bladder training; relaxation technique; and dietary and lifestyle modifications. Other treatments are manual therapy, therapeutic exercise for stretching and strengthening, hot and cold therapy, and a home exercise program.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of PFD, you should talk with your primary care provider or gynecologist, who can refer you to a physical therapist with specialized training in treating PFD.Lilybeth Ly is a Day Kimball Healthcare Physical Therapist with specialized training in the treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction. She practices at Day Kimball Healthcare Center in Danielson.
Integrated Care: Women's Health
Day Kimball Healthcare Center: Danielson