It’s estimated that at least 1 in 3 women suffer with some kind of pelvic floor dysfunction (think leaking, pain or prolapse) and given the variety of symptoms that might be experienced, it’s entirely inaccurate to assume that pelvic floor contractions (otherwise known as “kegels”) are the answer for everyone.
Many women have hypotonic pelvic floors (think low, which rhymes with hypo) whilst other have hypertonic pelvic floors (so pelvic floors that have too much tone and tension in them). And both can be weak! We want our muscles to be able to contract and relax through their full range of motion.
Some of the signs of a hypertonic pelvic floor (so too much tone) include:
- pain…in and around the pelvis, during sex or when using a tampon
- difficulty emptying your bladder or bowels (both in terms of starting to go and / or needing to go again quickly afterwards)
- constipation (which is often a long term complaint and many women don’t even realise that they are constipated. Check out another blog of mine here for more info).
- repeat urinary tract infections (from retention / not emptying properly)
- very shallow breathing or belly breathing (from not being able to relax the pelvic floor when you inhale and that pressure having to go somewhere else. Consequently, it’s quite common to see clients with hypertonic pelvic floors suffering from a Diastasis too)
- weak pelvic floor contractions (as there’s not much scope for it to contract further) and repetition of these making the above symptoms worse.
Don’t worry about diagnosing yourself either way though. If your pelvic floor doesn’t feel right, go and see a women’s health physiotherapist for a proper assessment. Once you’re armed with the knowledge of what your pelvic floor is doing you can then start to explore why.
It might be that you’re naturally a tense person that carries lots of stress in your body (think jaw, shoulders, pelvic floor). It could be that you’ve been overdoing the pelvic floor contractions / kegels in a misguided attempt to strengthen your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor might be compensating for a lack of strength or mobility in the surrounding muscles (think abs, glutes, hips, inner thighs).
Consequently, the kinds of activities that might be helpful to you include:
- manual release of those tight muscles by a women’s health physiotherapist
- addressing your breathing and focusing on the inhale and relax (ignoring the contract and exhale initially and then building this up carefully once you can relax on demand)
- doing either of the above in helpful poses like happy baby / wide child’s pose
- strengthening the muscles around the pelvic floor and addressing any tightness / mobility issues (think hips, inner thighs, abs, glutes) so the pelvic floor doesn’t have to pick up the slack
- addressing your constipation through diet, hydration, abdominal massage and getting your knees higher than your hips when you go for a poo (you can read more on this here)