Exercising these ‘forgotten’ muscles could change your life

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how muscle mass helps you age, but maybe there are some muscles that are being ‘forgotten’ that are vital to quality of life … and that’s our pelvic floor muscles.

Sorry fellas, this one is for the women out there and how they can keep their bladder and faecal function in tip-top shape.

So, let’s start with the basics – what are they?

Beginning at the beginning

The pelvic floor muscles span the bottom of the pelvis and support the pelvic organs, most notably the bladder, bowel and uterus. If they are weakened, they can create problems with bladder and bowel control and cause prolapse of the vagina or anus. That sounds gross because it is, which is why too many people don’t get help when they should. 

Pelvic floor muscles are also important for sexual function for both men and women.

What causes poor pelvic muscle function?

Evidence shows pregnancy and childbirth can aggravate the issue, especially if you have had multiple births, high intervention births with forceps or tearing, or giving birth to large babies. 

And then, as we age, reduced oestrogen can cause the pelvic floor muscles (like all muscles) to weaken.

Other causes include:

  • straining on the toilet too often
  • heavy, ongoing coughing
  • pelvic floor surgery or radiotherapy
  • heavy lifting
  • high impact exercise
  • age and weight.

Is there anything you can do?

There sure is! Like any muscle, pelvic floor muscles can be improved with regular, targeted exercise. 

Amy Steventon, physiotherapist at Jean Hailes, says there are several simple things you can do. 

“If incontinence is an issue, pelvic floor exercises can cure or significantly improve the type of leakage that happens with coughing, sneezing and exercising by up to 80 per cent,” Ms Steventon says. 

“Regular, targeted pelvic floor exercises can also help you maintain or increase bowel and wind control, improve sexual function  – greater sensation and arousal – and prevent pelvic organ prolapse or reduce prolapse symptoms.

“But you have to do the exercises correctly. One in three women don’t, so if you have tried pelvic floor exercises and haven’t seen an improvement, get your exercise technique checked by a pelvic health physio.”

And it is important to get help. Too many women think a little bit of wee coming out when they exercise, cough or sneeze is normal, but it doesn’t have to be. 

In fact, Ms Steventon says that without the right treatment, it will “potentially get worse”. 

Where to go for help

Your first step should be talking to your GP, or you can search for a list of pelvic health physiotherapists on the Australian Physiotherapy Association website, contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 or visit here for a list of service providers.

If you’re suffering from bladder or faecal leakage, Ms Steventon recommends keeping a record of your incidents (or near incidents) to take with you to any appointment. 

“Include details such as when you leak, what you’re doing when you leak and how much you leak,” Ms Steventon says. 

“You also might like to record what and how much you drink, and how often you go to the toilet during the day and night.”

Have you improved your pelvic floor? What steps did you take? Why not share your experience in the comments section below?

Also read: What makes you pee during the night

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.
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