In my experience, the pelvic floor has proven to be a mystery for the majority of my clients when they first start Pilates. Some have been taught how to do pelvic floor exercises incorrectly while most have never heard of it at all. When they are currently dealing with a pelvic floor issue, however, suddenly the pelvic floor takes on a new level of importance.
What is the Pelvic Floor?
The pelvic floor is a horizontal muscle group consisting of several layers of muscles which form the base of the pelvis. It supports organs such as the bladder and bowel in men and the bladder, bowel and uterus in women. It goes from the pubic bone at the front, to the tailbone at the back and to each sitting bone at the sides. It can be helpful to imagine it as a trampoline or hammock.
Why is the Pelvic Floor so important?
For both men and women, the pelvic floor forms part of the core and helps to stabilise and support the pelvis and spine and is important for bladder and bowel control and sexual function. During pregnancy, the pelvic floor provides support for the baby and is important during labour and the delivery.
What are the symptoms of Pelvic Floor weakness?
Urinary and fecal incontinence can occur at any time and is particularly bad during coughing or sneezing. Prolapse of the bladder bowel or uterus occurs when these organs bulge into the vagina in varying stages of severity. Sexual function and sensation are compromised in both men and women when the pelvic floor is weak or damaged.
Who is at risk of Pelvic Floor weakness?
Women are at risk of pelvic floor issues both during and after pregnancy and it is common for women to endure incontinence for many years without realising that pelvic floor strengthening could assist them. Obesity and high impact sports that involve running and jumping also put the pelvic floor under enormous strain. Men can often suffer pelvic floor weakness following prostate surgery.
What solutions does Pilates offer for strengthening the Pelvic Floor?
Now, I know this all sounds a bit grim especially if you are currently dealing with a pelvic floor weakness or dysfunction. The good news is that when you have clearance from your GP, Pilates is the perfect way to strengthen and connect with the pelvic floor muscles.
As I mentioned previously it forms the base of the core, so with correct training, each time you engage your core during your Pilates session you are activating & then releasing your Pelvic Floor muscles. It is as much a mental connection as it is physical and it takes approximately 2 weeks of daily practice to establish a strong neural pathway from your brain to the pelvic floor when you first begin. Once you have a pelvic floor weakness, it's entirely possible to strengthen and retrain the muscles, but when your pelvic floor is strong and healthy is the ideal time to establish awareness of how it feels to connect and strengthen these muscles. This way you are prepared for any unexpected compromise of the pelvic floor such as an unplanned pregnancy or prostate surgery for example. The more familiar you are with your pelvic floor and how it feels and functions, the better this will be for your overall health and well being - so take the necessary steps now - don't ignore your Pelvic Floor!
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