Pelvic floor dysfunction is an umbrella term for a variety of disorders that occur when pelvic floor muscles and ligaments are impaired. Although this condition predominantly affects females, up to 16% of males suffer as well.[1] Symptoms include pelvic pain, pressure, pain during sex, incontinence, incomplete emptying of feces, and visible organ protrusion.[2] Tissues surrounding the pelvic organs may have increased or decreased sensitivity or irritation resulting in pelvic pain. Underlying causes of pelvic pain are often difficult to determine.[3] The condition affects up to 50% of women who have given birth.[4]
It’s highly unlikely that someone will head into a therapist’s office for a stand-alone “vaginal massage.” Why not? “It’s one small aspect of the whole therapy,” says Laura Y. Huang, MD, assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. She notes that pelvic floor muscle training, biofeedback, soft tissue release, and education are some of the many pelvic floor physical therapy treatments used to relieve pain or retrain muscles. Learning techniques and strategies to manage the condition at home is also part of treatment.
Pelvic floor physical therapists specialize in the muscles, nerves and connective tissues that live between your legs, also known as the pelvic floor. They gain their expertise through a series of post-graduate continuing education classes, certifications, and training. Their training allows them to perform both internal and external pelvic exams, and broadens their knowledge of conditions which affect the pelvic floor. Sometimes, people who specialize in modalities like biofeedback or dilator therapy, advertise themselves as pelvic floor therapists, but don’t have any hands on experience treating the sensitive and often reactive muscles of the pelvic floor. If you are seeking pelvic floor physical therapy, it is important to enquire about the experience and level of training your potential physical therapist has had in this specialty.

Strengthening weak pelvic floor muscles often helps a person gain better bowel and bladder control. A physical therapist can help you be sure you are doing a Kegel correctly and prescribe a home program to meet your individual needs. Diet modifications can also reduce urinary and fecal incontinence. Bladder re-training can decrease urinary frequency and help you regain control of your bladder.
Get therapy. A women’s health physical therapist (WHPT) can diagnose and treat pelvic floor issues. They often perform manual therapy where the therapist gently massages, stretches and releases the spasms and trigger points in the deep tissue of your vagina. This, alone, can sometimes be enough to resolve symptoms of PFD, including urinary incontinence and pelvic pain. Some WHPTs partner with OB/GYNs, urologists, and other specialists. Your first session may include an internal exam to assess your pelvic floor. Then your therapist will create a program that is right for you. Women who have PFD and have practiced Kegels with little or no results typically benefit from seeing a WHPT. You can search the American Physical Therapy Association website for a licensed WHPT.

Breathe from your diaphragm. Your inner core is made up of your pelvic floor, your transversus abdominus and multifidus, and your diaphragm. When everything is working optimally, your diaphragm and pelvic floor move in sync. However, when you suck in your gut, slouch over your computer, or experience chronic tension, this pattern gets disrupted. To practice diaphragmatic breathing, lie down on your back. You can put a pillow under your knees, but you want a neutral spine. Place one hand just above your belly button. Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your inhale to expand your belly. Feel your upper belly rise under your hand. Keep your upper chest, shoulders, and neck muscles relaxed as you inhale. Then release your breath without forcing it out. Feel your chest and belly drop. Do this for 1-2 minutes and work up to doing this for 5 minutes and several times per day.
Discussed extensively in Travel and Simon’s two volume series, trigger points are taut (firm) points in the muscle that have a consistent referral pattern (they transmit pain to the another part of the body). Trigger points are not only important because they cause pain, they also can affect how the muscle works. This is one of the main reasons our therapists at Beyond Basics are fastidious about ensuring all trigger points are released in the abdomen, back, legs and pelvic floor before transitioning to any core stabiltiy or strengthening exercises that can re activate a trigger point.
The muscles of the pelvic floor must work together and in coordination to perform specific tasks. The pelvic floor has to contract, elongate and relax in very precise ways to perform basic functions like urination, defecation, support the pelvis and organs, and sexual function and pleasure. If your pelvic floor muscles and/or nerves fail to do what they are supposed to do at the right time, problems like painful sex, erectile dysfunction, constipation, and incontinence can occur.

It is essential that we, as pelvic floor physical therapists, also include other assessments when we are examining our patients for the very first time. We employ the tried and true physical therapy exam practices to determine if there is an underlying condition elsewhere in your body, such as a strength deficit or alignment issue that could be affecting your pelvic floor. It’s wild to think of it, but something as seemingly unrelated as a flat foot or a hip injury can be enough to set off pelvic and abdominal pain!

I am 61 and was diagnosed last year with pelvic floor tension after months of pain. Let me first recommend an article from prevention magazine 2014 titled “why it hurts down there”. I am healthy, thin, on no medications, I walk 2miles and do lots of gardening. I went to my gynecologist (male) and he prescribed an antibiotic for a urinary tract infection, which upon culture I did not have, but he never told me that. The pain never went away. He prescribed a 2nd round of antibiotic, the pain never went away. He sent me to a urologist( a female) who Did a pelvic exam and diagnosed PFT. She sent me to specialty physical therapy and 4 sessions later I was pain free.
Try squatting. Biomechanical specialist Katy Bowman points out that the gluteal muscles are the ones that are most important for pelvic floor function. Doing regular squats elongates your pelvic floor muscles and makes them more functional. Squats also help re-position your pelvis by balancing out the anterior pull of your sacrum. When you have a flat butt and no curve in the small of your back, that’s a sign that your pelvic floor is starting to weaken. Humans used to squat to eliminate urine and feces. Some cultures still use squat toilets. And, many cultures use the squat as a sitting position instead of using chairs. To do a deep squat (called malasana, or garland pose, in yoga), you may want to start with a towel or yoga mat rolled up under your heels, then lower yourself slowly until your tailbone is as close to the floor as possible with your heels still flat on the floor or your towel. You can practice deep squatting at home, at the gym, or at the yoga studio. You can also practice deep squats while playing with small children (notice how they do this!), gardening, and while using the toilet with the help of a Squatty Potty or something to lift your feet. In addition to strengthening your pelvic floor, you may notice fewer problems with your gut function, and may even avoid hemorrhoids. Note: many Westerners cannot do the deep squats that other cultures are brought up doing. We tend to lose this ability after childhood. Don’t worry about it. Just squat as low as you can while keeping your knees in alignment with your toes. I personally can’t do anywhere near the kind of squat that my 3-year-old granddaughter can do.

The “pelvic floor” refers to a group of muscles that attach to the front, back, and sides of the pelvic bone and sacrum (the large fused bone at the bottom of your spine, just above the tailbone). Like a sling or hammock, these muscles support the organs in the pelvis, including the bladder, uterus or prostate, and rectum. They also wrap around your urethra, rectum, and vagina (in women).
Visceral mobilization restores movement to the viscera or organs. As elucidated earlier in our blog, the viscera can affect a host of things even including how well the abdominal muscles reunite following pregnancy or any abdominal surgery. Visceral mobilization aids in relieving constipation/IBS symptoms, bladder symptoms, digestive issues like reflux, as well as sexual pain. Visceral mobilization can facilitate blood supply to aid in their function, allow organs to do their job by ensuring they have the mobility to move in the way they are required to perform their function, and to allow them to reside in the correct place in their body cavity. Evidence is beginning to emerge to demonstrate how visceral mobilization can even aid in fertility problems.
May is Pelvic Pain Awareness Month (#PelvicPainAware), supported by the International Pelvic Pain Society (www.pelvicpain.org). As physical therapists who specialize in abdomino-pelvic pain disorders, one of the toughest parts of the job is meeting men and women who have suffered with pelvic pain for years, only to be told by their doctors/healthcare providers that there is no help for them. It is not uncommon to meet a patient who has suffered for 5- 10 years without help before finding us. Musculoskeletal causes of abdomino-pelvic pain are treatable conditions and often times we can start to improve a patient’s symptoms within just a few visits. We are promoting Pelvic Pain Awareness Month because it is our mission to ensure that people know that help exists so they can start living richer and fuller lives. In honor of Pelvic Pain Awareness Month we want to take some time to explain what we do and how it can help with the symptoms of pelvic pain. Please read on to see how we can help you with your pain.
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