A strong and healthy muscle is one that can both engage and release all the way. It's all about finding balance between ease and effort. The pelvic floor is no different. Also known as the pelvic diaphragm it is composed of muscles and connective tissues that attach directly to the bone of the pelvis (they are the only muscles in the human body that do). How do we know if we have a weak or tight pelvic floor? Take the Hyper vs Hypo breath test below.
Every woman at some point should visit a pelvic floor physiotherapist to find out for sure.
The Five Functions of the Pelvic Floor
The Five 'S's
The pelvic floor supports the abdominal organs in the lower belly. Our lower abdominal organs like the bladder, uterus, bowels and rectum are all held in the pelvic cavity by the pelvic floor muscles and connective tissues.
These are ring like muscles at junctions in the body. Their job is to act like a valve staying closed until there is a need to open the junction. Such as in the case of releasing urine through the urethra. The anus has two sphincters, one is internal (colon) and the another is external (rectum).
When the muscles in the pelvic floor are functioning properly, they spasm during intercourse which can increase pleasure. Intercourse should never be painful, this may be a sign of dysfunction in the pelvic floor.
The various pelvic floor muscles create two hammock like layers within the pelvic bowl. They insert and attach at various points. Side to side across the bottom of the pelvic bowl attaching roughly sit bone to sit bone (rounded bottoms of the pelvis - ischial tuberosity). Front to back attaching to the pubic bone at the front and the tail bone (coccyx) and base of spine (sacrum) at the back. Because of this attachment at the base of the spine and across the bottom of the pelvis these muscles and tissues support and stabilize the lower back during movements that require core strength.
The pelvic floor also acts to pump blood and lymph through the pelvis in order to avoid pelvic congestion, which can result in serious pain in the pelvis and hips.
What is it?
Weakness in the pelvic floor muscles. Inability to contract the muscles all the way or inability to hold the contraction.
Symptoms of a Hypotonic Pelvic Floor
• Heaviness in the pelvic region
• Pressure in the pelvic region
• Urinary leakage • Fecal incontinence • Unresolved lower back and hip problems
What is it?
Tightness in the pelvic floor muscles and tissues. The inability to release the muscles all the way or to relax completely. You may also find it difficult to feel the sensation of releasing and relaxing these muscles (numbness).
Symptoms of a Hypertonic Pelvic Floor
Urinary frequency, urgency, hesitancy, stopping and starting of the urine stream, painful urination or incomplete emptying.
Constipation, straining, pain during or after bowel movements.
Unexplained pain in your lower back, pelvic region, hips, genital area or rectum.
Pain during or after intercourse, orgasm or sexual stimulation.
Uncoordinated muscle contractions causing the pelvic floor muscles to spasm.
The Breath Test
These breathing exercises do not in any way replace the expertise of a trained pelvic floor physiotherapist. If you are experiencing severe symptoms please see a trained professional. These exercises are meant to be a complimentary tool to the advice of your therapist.
Hypotonic Breathing Exercise
Inhale with a sense of expansion and draw your breath down into the pelvic floor, by softening and lengthening the muscles between the pubic bone/tail bone and sit bone/sit bone. See the Core Breath 101 for the complete guide to using the breath. Hold the inhale, retaining the breath in with that sense of length and stretch from the inside for 4 counts.
Exhale engage the pelvic floor, drawing in and up (imagine drawing the muscles together between the pubic bone and tail bone; from sit bone to sit bone). Hold the engagement for ten seconds (you do not need to hold the breath). Notice if you feel yourself losing the contraction before the ten seconds is up or if the contraction becomes softer.
This may indicate a need to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles using exercises designed to support the pelvic floor. Some people notice a difference practicing every day in just a few weeks, for others it may take a few months. Check out the STRONG CORE & PELVIC FLOOR SERIES in the video library.
Hypertonic Breahting Exercise
Inhale once again with a sense of length and expansion, stretching the pelvic floor and core from the inside. Hold for 4 counts and then strongly exhale, drawing the pelvic floor muscles in and up. Exhale all the way completing the breath. Now as you begin your next inhale, very slowly start to soften the pelvic floor as you count. Try to make it to at least five before you stop releasing. Notice what you feel as you practice letting go. Is there numbness (little or no sensation), uncontrollable spasms, pain or a feeling of not being able to soften or relax all the way? You may need to practice some tension release using Yin Yoga and focusing on the inhale of the Core Breath while letting go on the exhales.
Check out the Pelvic Floor Yin Yoga Practice in the video library.