Empower Your Pelvic Health

Article published at: Agora London Feb 20, 2024
Empower Your Pelvic Health
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A Conversation on Health

In recent years, you may have come across more conversations regarding the benefits of pelvic floor exercises. But what exactly is meant by the term 'pelvic floor'?

The pelvic floor refers to a group of muscles and ligaments that provide support to the bladder, uterus (womb), and bowel. It serves as a foundation for the openings of these organs: the urethra from the bladder, the vagina from the uterus, and the anus from the bowel, all passing through the pelvic floor.

Wondering about the pelvic floor muscles and what they do?

When these muscles are strong, they act as defenders for your pelvic organs, preventing problems like involuntary leaks (incontinence) and the lack of support (prolapse) for the bladder, uterus, and bowel. Additionally, these muscles empower you to effectively control bladder and bowel functions, ensuring everything stays in place and functions smoothly.

Pelvic floor muscle weakness can stem from various factors. Some common causes include:

  •   Pregnancy: The physical changes during pregnancy can contribute to weakened pelvic floor muscles.
  •   Childbirth: Especially after delivering a large baby or undergoing prolonged pushing during delivery, the pelvic floor muscles may weaken.
  •   Being overweight: Carrying excess weight can strain and weaken the pelvic floor muscles.
  •   Constipation: Excessive straining during bowel movements can contribute to muscle weakness in the pelvic floor.
  •   Hormonal changes at menopause: Fluctuations in hormonal levels during menopause can impact the strength of pelvic floor muscles.
  •   Ageing: As we grow older, the natural ageing process can lead to the weakening of these muscles.

The Magic of Kegels

The encouraging news is that there are specific exercises to maintain the health of these muscles, known as Kegel exercises. Coined after Dr. Arnold Kegel, who discovered them in 1940 to aid women experiencing urinary incontinence, these exercises have proven beneficial not only for incontinence or prolapse but also for overall pelvic health. Over time, Kegel exercises have demonstrated positive effects on the well-being of the targeted area and can even enhance sexual health.

Can Kegels truly enhance sexual experiences?

Absolutely. Kegel exercises contribute to improved blood circulation in the pelvic floor and vagina, which can be beneficial for arousal and lubrication. Many women, particularly after childbirth, may feel a difference in the tightness of their vagina and consider surgical interventions. However, engaging in Kegel exercises strengthens the pelvic floor muscles, potentially restoring some tightness. This increased tightness may not only be a physical outcome but could also be linked to better muscle contraction, potentially enhancing sensation. The positive benefits of Kegels, partly psychological, can lead to improved feelings about pelvic floor health. Importantly, these exercises are not exclusive to women; they offer benefits for men as well.  However remember that if you happen to go overboard with Kegels and excessively strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, they might become overly tense. This, in turn, could lead to issues and symptoms like pain, increased urgency and frequency of urination, and more. It's important to strike a balance to avoid potential complications.

Latest Research on Pelvic Floor Health

Led by Professor Suzanne Hagen, Programme Director at the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit at Glasgow Caledonian University, researchers conducted a trial funded by Wellbeing of Women—a UK charity focused on reproductive and gynaecological health. The study involved 414 women in the UK and New Zealand, examining the effectiveness of pelvic floor muscle training on prolapse symptoms.

The participants received either one-to-one pelvic floor muscle training with tailored lifestyle advice, Pilates-based pelvic floor muscle training classes, and a guided home exercise DVD, or they only received a prolapse lifestyle advice leaflet. The intervention group experienced fewer prolapse symptoms, with a significantly lower proportion (6% compared to 14.4%) seeking prolapse treatment, including surgery, pessaries, physiotherapy, or GP consultation within two years.

Feedback from participants highlighted the positive impact of the intervention on their awareness of the effects of childbirth and ageing on their bodies. They expressed a sense of empowerment in taking steps to maintain their fitness and health, leading to a more positive outlook on ageing and menopause. The participants reported both physical and mental benefits from the study.

Bridging the Information Gap

Enhancing women's understanding of pelvic anatomy and function is crucial for preventing health issues and promoting overall well-being. Dr. Jennifer M. Hebert-Beirne and a team of medical professionals conducted a study at the University of Illinois Chicago, School of Public Health, emphasising the significance of teaching pelvic anatomy and organ function to female adolescents.

Effective pelvic health education that imparts information about pelvic anatomy, muscle functions, and organ operation can enhance awareness of pivotal life events. Much like any other form of education, knowledge of pelvic floor empowers women, enabling them to navigate healthcare with confidence, embrace healthy behaviours, and make informed choices to enhance both prevention and treatment strategies.

The absence of this knowledge and understanding may leave women unprepared for common life events involving the pelvis, such as sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy, childbirth, and prevalent pelvic conditions like pelvic floor disorders.

This study, carried out in three Chicago schools, uncovered a surprisingly high occurrence of pelvic conditions among adolescents. Specifically, 65.3% reported experiencing some level of symptoms related to stress urinary incontinence. Moreover, less than a third of the participants initially recognised that leaking urine is not considered normal. This lack of awareness among adolescents might hinder the recognition of pelvic dysfunction, potentially leading to delays in communicating symptoms with medical providers.

Women’s Pelvic Health in the UK

In the UK, recent research reveals a comparable scenario, indicating that 60% of women experience at least one symptom of compromised pelvic health, such as urinary incontinence. A new survey (2023) indicates that slightly over one in five women (22%) nationwide regularly engage in exercises to uphold their pelvic floor health. Alarmingly, over half (55%) either do not currently or have never practiced pelvic floor exercises, while 23% admit to not knowing how to perform them.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) advocates for early education on pelvic floor health for girls, emphasising ongoing support throughout their lives. The RCOG highlights that symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction can significantly impact an individual's quality of life hindering their work, social life, relationships, and adversely affecting their mental health and well-being.

Despite these concerns, the study indicates a shortfall in the provision of information about pelvic floor health and the risk factors associated with pelvic floor dysfunction in the UK.

Pledge for Lifelong Empowerment

It is crucial to address and prioritise closing the informational gap. By bridging this gap, promoting consistent pelvic floor exercises, and offering continuous support, women can gain confidence in navigating everyday life events and improving their overall well-being. Ensuring women are well-informed, equipped, and supported in managing their pelvic health across various life stages is essential.

As I conclude, know that you are not alone on this path to better health and wellness. Your journey is unique but together we form a community of strength and support.

Let’s thrive together,

Cristina x


Recommended NHS Video for Essential Pelvic Floor Knowledge




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