One of the most commonly talked about side effects of being pregnant and giving birth is the possibility of incontinence or difficulty controlling your bowels, otherwise known as pelvic floor dysfunction.
Because of the way it’s portrayed in the media, we seem to think that pelvic floor dysfunction is an inevitability of motherhood and therefore completely normal. And because we accept it as normal, many pregnant mamas and new moms don’t even realize that they have it. However, we’re here to tell you that while it’s common, it’s definitely not normal, and it’s treatable.
Pelvic floor dysfunction involves a range of different signs and symptoms. We’ve compiled a complete guide to pelvic floor dysfunction and the symptoms here. Read on to find out more!
What is Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?
Pelvic floor dysfunction is a condition of the pelvic floor muscles that can affect both men and women.
The essential definition of this disorder is the inability to properly contract and relax the pelvic floor muscles during urination or when having a bowel movement. The pelvic floor muscles are a group of muscles form a sling from the pelvic bone to the rectum, and support organs such as the vagina and bladder. When these muscles do not function normally, many people experience difficulty going to the toilet.
Pelvic floor dysfunction can refer to a range of problems and symptoms, from not being able to make it to the bathroom when you really need to go pee, to leaking a bit when you cough, laugh or sneeze, to painful sex, and more. Pelvic floor dysfunction can even affect your labour.
What Causes Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?
The exact cause of pelvic floor dysfunction is still not well understood.
Some people may develop pelvic floor dysfunction following a traumatic injury to the pelvic area, such as during a car crash, or a sporting accident. Another often cited cause is complications during vaginal childbirth, which can leave the pelvic floor muscles in a damaged or abnormal state. Pregnancy can impact your pelvic floor function too, as the weight of your baby, fluid, placenta and extra body weight may cause strain on the pelvic floor.
Another potential cause for pelvic floor dysfunction is simply a learned behaviour, either conscious or subconscious. This is usually in the form of straining (usually while on the toilet), that results in a reflex muscle contraction when the muscles should be relaxing. Similarly, if you are spending your life with a pelvic floor that is constantly held tight, it can cause problems. Think of how your shoulders and upper back gets tight with stress – your pelvic floor is a group of muscles that can get tight too!
What Are The Symptoms of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?
The symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction are many and varied. Fortunately, many of them are easily recognised and once identified, steps can be taken to treat the condition.
Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Stool or urine incontinence – if you are leaking anything at all when you’re not sitting on the toilet trying to go to the bathroom, that’s a symptom of dysfunction
- Feeling of needing to urinate many times, with frequent stopping and starting
- Pain when urinating
- The feeling that you won’t make it to the bathroom quickly enough
- A sensation of needing to have multiple bowel movements in rapid succession.
- Feeling like you are unable to have a complete bowel movement.
- Lower back pain unrelated to other conditions
- Pain in pelvic region, genitals, or rectum
- Pain during intercourse (experienced by women).
Some people will only experience a few of these symptoms, and some will experience all of them. If you notice any of these signs, you should consult your physician to determine whether you have pelvic floor dysfunction or seek out the help of a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist.
How Can Pelvic Floor Dysfunction Be Treated?
Luckily, pelvic floor dysfunction can quite often be treated and cured without the need for surgery.
There are several techniques that can be used to lessen the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction and eventually completely reverse them. Some of the most popular include:
Biofeedback is a form of muscle retraining done with the assistance of a physical therapist.
There are many different ways biofeedback can be performed, including using sensors and cameras to observe the pelvic floor muscles as the patient attempts to contract and relax them. The physical therapists will then suggest a range of exercises or stretches to help retrain the muscles and correct the contraction response.
Yoga & Meditation
Another popular method for treating pelvic floor dysfunction is through yoga and meditation.
As pelvic floor dysfunction involves overly tight and contracted muscles, activities that help to loosen and relax muscles can offer significant benefits. Yoga is a great option for moms looking to help ease symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction. This ancient practice involves a series of guided stretches and movements that help increase your control over your body and muscles, including your pelvic floor muscles.
Similarly, meditation can be used to help loosen and improve control over these muscles. Combining yoga and meditation can further improve these benefits, allowing for a gradual and significant improvement in pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms.
Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy
One of the best techniques available for treating pelvic floor dysfunction is pelvic floor physiotherapy.
Pelvic floor physiotherapy usually involves a multi-faceted approach. While there is likely going to be an internal component to the treatment (think of it a bit as a “vagina massage, if you will”, your therapist will likely also prescribe physical exercises designed to help improve control over the pelvic floor. Together, these can help strengthen weak pelvic floor muscles, but can also be used to help relax overly contracted pelvic floor muscles. Exercises such as reverse kegels focus on identifying the sensation of relaxation within the pelvic floor muscles and then retraining the patient to reassociate this sensation with going to the toilet. These techniques can also assist in preparation for childbirth, as good control over the pelvic floor muscles can help during labour.
Do you have pelvic floor dysfunction and are looking to get help improving your symptoms? West End Mamas is the leading pelvic floor physiotherapy provider in Toronto, York Region, and Newmarket. Our expert physiotherapists work closely with every patient to determine their symptoms, concerns, and what techniques will be the most effective in improving their quality of life. We offer a Pelvic Floor Basics class for expectant moms to be, as well as postnatal recovery classes to help repair your pelvic floor following birth. Contact us today to book an appointment!