Struggling with problems such as urinary incontinence and pain during sex can be uncomfortable – and not just physically. Many people find it difficult to talk to their health-care providers about these kinds of symptoms. But such conditions are often treatable, especially if they are related to pelvic floor dysfunction.
Your pelvic floor is the collection of muscles that form the bottom, or “floor,” of your pelvis and hold up the organs inside your pelvis, including the bladder, bowels and (in women) uterus. For a variety of reasons, these muscles can begin to weaken, misfire or in some way lose their ability to support these important organs.
Licensed doctors of physical therapy who specialize in pelvic floor health are among the leading clinicians who can help men and women find relief from this often-frustrating condition. We specialize in pelvic floor therapy and can speak with authority to help you learn a bit more about it, including who’s at risk, what its primary symptoms are and how a physical therapist can help.
It’s been estimated that nearly 30% of women ages 40-59 suffer from pelvic floor dysfunction. The prevalence increases to nearly 40% of women 60-79, and nearly half of women 80 and older.
You may be more likely to experience pelvic floor dysfunction if you have a family history of it or if you have any other known risk factors, including:
• A history of surgery or trauma to the pelvic area.
• Advancing age, though it’s not necessarily considered an unavoidable part of aging.
• Improper pelvic floor activation due to, for example, pushing too hard while going to the bathroom, inefficient breathing patterns and poor posture.
Pelvic floor dysfunction doesn’t just affect women. Every year, millions of men experience symptoms as well. We treat men and women alike in our clinic.
Signs of dysfunction
Chief signs and symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction include:
• Constipation or frequently needing to strain while defecating.
• Painful and/or frequent urination – you might also feel as if you have a hard time fully emptying your bladder
• Urinary or bowel incontinence.
• Pain in the lower back or pelvis.
• Digestive issues such as irritable bowel symptoms.
Men with pelvic floor dysfunction might also notice erectile dysfunction, whereas women can experience pain during sex.
The signs and symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction also can occur due to other health conditions, so the only way to know for sure if your issues are related to your pelvic floor musculature is to meet with a professional. Diagnosis is typically made based on your history, as well as select tests and measures.
If left untreated, pelvic floor dysfunction may worsen over time or lead to complications such as pelvic organ prolapse (in women, this happens when the pelvic organs sink down and protrude into the vagina or rectum due to increased weakness and laxity of the pelvic floor muscles – not unlike what happens if you put a bowling ball on an old trampoline). For these reasons, it’s important to seek professional help if you or a loved one notices any of the above problems.
A physical therapist is one of many health-care providers involved in the assessment, treatment and management of pelvic floor dysfunction. In addition to referring you out to other specialists who may need to be involved in your care, PTs trained in pelvic floor examination and treatment can:
• Provide manual techniques that help improve posture, reduce any underlying scar tissue or mobility restrictions and alleviate tension on the pelvic floor.
• Teach therapeutic exercises that can not only alleviate your symptoms, but also help regain the strength, endurance, motor control and alignment of the pelvic floor muscles.
If you are concerned about pelvic floor health and function, we encourage you to not let any frustration or embarrassment prevent you from seeking the care you deserve. You don’t have to suffer in silence.
Kim Gladfelter is owner, physical therapist and Pilates instructor at PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness,
1000 Fremont Ave., Suite 108, Los Altos. For more information, call 887-6046 or visit physiofitpt.com.