The pelvic floor. Familiar with it? We don’t talk about it much in our circles, but it’s not uncommon amongst groups of women to hear statements like: “It’s normal to pee when you sneeze, especially if you’ve had a baby.” Many of us have heard this said, or even said it ourselves! Did you know that COMMON does not equal NORMAL? It is absolutely NOT normal to pee (even “just a little”) when you sneeze, jump, laugh, or AGE! But there ARE things you can do to stop it! Keep reading to uncover pelvic floor myths and some advice to get your pelvic muscles functioning well! If you’ve got questions about this topic, don’t hesitate to ask your provider! Erin at Insight is a traditional naturopath who would be happy to chat with you as well! You can contact Insight here.
Myth #1: Peeing When You Sneeze Is Normal.
Many of us have been there. A sneezing or coughing fit gets us going, and no matter how tightly we cross our legs or try to avoid it, a little pee just leaks right out. It’s just part of life as we age, right? Especially if we’ve given birth before!
It may be part of life for a large percentage of women, but commonality does not equal normalcy. You aren’t alone if you suffer from frequent or occasional urine leaks. This leakage is usually a result of weak pelvic floor muscles, and just like any muscle in the body, these muscles can also be strengthened.
How Pelvic Floor Muscles Get Weak
Think of your bladder as a balloon, and urethra as a straw coming down from that balloon. Urine flows out of the bladder into the urethra, but surrounding the urethra are your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles have the ability to contract, closing off the urethra a bit, similar to pinching off a straw.
But if these muscles are weak, they aren’t able to effectively close off the urethra, which allows urine to leak through. This leakage can happen when you sneeze, jump on a trampoline, exercise, even laugh! No matter when it happens, there are ways to make it stop! To help those muscles function more effectively, you have to strengthen them!
Your pelvic floor was absolutely designed to be able to hold the load of whatever you’re doing- safely and effectively. From working out to laughing to sneezing, you can be leak-free again! Keep reading for some tips, or seek out a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist in your area today!
Myth #2: Painful Sex Is Normal
Sex shouldn’t be painful. There’s a whole list women are offered making excuse for painful intercourse: You’ve had a baby! or Well, you’re going through menopause! or It’s just because it’s been awhile, give it some time.
Pain with intercourse is often normalized, and many women endure, thinking it’s, well, normal. Pelvic pain with intercourse can have many causes, all of which can be common and investigated with your doctor. Sometimes tissue changes following childbirth or hormone imbalances are to blame for painful sex.
But sometimes the cause is related to your pelvic floor- muscles in spasm, or involuntarily contracting are too tight, and this can make intercourse painful. Learning how to effectively engage and relax these muscles plays a crucial role in pain-free sex.
Myth #3: Kegels are the Only Way to Improve Pelvic Floor Health
In case the term is new to you, let’s begin by answering the question:
What is a Kegel?
A kegel is an isolated contraction of your pelvic muscles. Similar to stopping the flow of urine, kegels exercise (and can strengthen) your pelvic floor. But kegels aren’t cure-alls, even though they’re often tauted as the #1 solution for weak pelvic floors.
If you have a hard time relaxing these particular muscles, contracting via kegels will not help your problem, it’ll make it worse! In this situation, where the muscles are actually too tight, learning to relax these muscles is critical.
Are Pelvic Floor Exercises the Same as Kegels?
No. Kegels are one exercise option of many. In fact, a local physical therapist shared kegels make up only about 25% of her treatment plan!
Strengthening the Pelvic Floor Without Kegels
In the absence of kegels, or in conjunction with kegels, some other options for a healthy pelvic floor include:
- Physical Therapy with a licensed physical therapist
- Hip and low back stretches
- Gentle Core Exercises
What’s Pelvic Floor Therapy?
Answer: A treatment option provided by a licensed physical therapist specifically trained to treat pelvic floor dysfunction. This therapy can include stretching and/or strengthening of the pelvic muscles as well as surrounding muscles (hips, low back, thighs, etc.) This is a manual (hands-on) therapy.
Myth #4: Everyone Needs to Do Kegels
We’ve already talked about how kegels won’t be helpful for some people, especially those who need help relaxing the muscles in the pelvic area. All the same, the standard advice handed out when it comes to pelvic floor health is basically “kegel, kegel, kegel.” All of that squeezing is nothing but harmful if you’re in the group of people who should NOT be doing kegels!
Again, if your muscles are over-tense, pelvic exercises designed to strengthen weak muscles will get you nowhere and will likely make you worse. But how do you know if your pelvic floor is “too tight”? Some symptoms to be aware of include:
- Difficulty beginning to urinate
- Thin stools
- Pain with urination or bowel movements
- Bladder urgency
- Painful intercourse
- Inability to effectively tighten or squeeze your pelvic floor, plus at least one other symptom listed above
Myth #5: Only Women Have Pelvic Floors
Is it surprising to you that men also suffer from pelvic related pain or difficulties? Well, as many as 1 in 10 do!
Pelvic floor related problems are not just “women’s problems.” Changing our perspective here is critical because many men feel awkward seeking help for something that is seen as “unmanly.”
In fact, even for men willing to seek help for pelvic floor problems, often doctors, acupuncturists, and other practitioners (including physical therapists!) dismiss these concerns, not considering the pelvic floor could be to blame! This leaves men suffering with pain for far longer than necessary!
So, what does pelvic pain look like for men?
Pelvic pain is often first diagnosed as prostatitis, due to pain location. But not all men receiving this diagnosis will have inflammation within the prostate. If you’re a man experiencing pelvic pain, and no infection can be confirmed within your prostate, keep in mind some, if not all, of your troubles could be related to your pelvic floor.
Watch for symptoms including:
- Pain (sharp, dull, aching, burning, etc.)
- Changes in urination or bowel function
- Sexual function concerns or changes
Myth #6: Leaking Comes with Age
Leaking is NOT something you have to just accept as you age. No matter your age, you CAN have a strong pelvic floor (YES, even if you’ve had children)!
Pregnancy and birth can certainly have an impact on your pelvic muscles, as can menopause. Incontinence associated with a weak pelvic floor is a true medical problem, and a physical therapist can be a tremendous asset in healing. But with a little education, and perhaps some help with posture and breathing, your pelvic floor can function healthily again.
The sooner you pay attention to what your body is telling you, the better off you’ll be!
No matter your age, no matter your sex, pelvic pain isn’t something you have to suffer with, and incontinence isn’t something you have to accept! Don’t be afraid to talk about it and seek help today!