The pelvic floor muscles are located in the pelvis and stretch like a sling from the pubic bone to the tail bone and from side to side. Strong pelvic floor muscles help support the bladder and bowel in men, and the bladder, bowel and uterus in women. When the pelvic floor muscles are weakened the internal organs are not fully supported and there can be difficulty controlling the release of urine, faeces or flatus (wind).
There are a number of causes of a weakened pelvic floor, including:
- genetic factors
- straining on the toilet or chronic constipation
- chronic coughing or sneezing including those linked with asthma, smoking or allergies
- heavy lifting
- previous injuring to the pelvic area
Although the pelvic floor muscles are hidden they can be consciously controlled so can be strengthened with training, like abdominal muscles and arms and legs.
The benefits of pelvic floor muscle exercises:
- improved control over bladder and bowel function
- reduced risk of prolapse ('sagging' of internal organs)
- better recovery from childbirth and surgery (in women)
- better recovery after prostate surgery
- increased sexual sensation and stronger orgasm in women
- increased social confidence and quality of life
- some evidence to suggest that there may be improvement with erectile dysfunction in men
The first thing you need to do is identify the pelvic floor muscles before attempting an exercise program. Pelvic floor exercises can be done at any time and any place; sitting, standing, waiting in a queue, driving a car or at your desk, and like all exercise needs to be regular and ongoing.
If you need advice on identifying the pelvic floor muscles or beginning an exercise program, you can visit a continence and pelvic floor physiotherapist, a continence nurse or visit the National Continence Helpline site or download the Pelvic Floor First Safe Exercise app.
There are also some other lifestyle changes you can make to help strengthen the pelvic floor:
- losing excess body fat
- cure chronic constipation
- regular general exercise
- good toilet habits
- seek advice and treatment for chronic cough
For more information about pelvic floor exercises, go to the Continence Foundation of Australia Pelvic floor muscles page or the Jean Hailes Pelvic floor strength page.