As many as 50 percent of people with chronic constipation have pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) — impaired relaxation and coordination of pelvic floor and abdominal muscles during evacuation. Straining, hard or thin stools, and a feeling of incomplete elimination are common signs and symptoms. But because slow transit constipation and functional constipation can overlap with PFD, some patients may also present with other signs and symptoms, such as a long time between bowel movements and abdominal pain.
In order for the processes of urination and defecation to go smoothly, the various muscles within the pelvis need to act in a coordinated manner. In some cases, the muscles contract when they should be relaxing, or the muscles do not relax sufficiently to facilitate coordinated movement. Problems with the pelvic floor muscles can lead to urinary difficulties and bowel dysfunction. PFD is experienced by both men and women.
When your pelvic floor muscles are strong and flexible, you are able to control your bladder and bowels by contracting and relaxing the muscles and tissues in your pelvic floor. You also have better orgasms! When these muscles weaken due to habits, such as sitting too much and not moving your hips through their full range of motion, or from muscle tension due to chronic stress or overdeveloping the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles, you can end up with Pelvic Floor Dysfunction.
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.
Thank you Dr. Northrup for sharing great information about pelvic floor dysfunction. I am a physical therapist and board-certified women’s clinical specialist. I’ve been practicing pelvic physical therapy since 1999. Over the years I have realized that we as women to not have basic information to take care of our bodies and never discuss the ‘secret’ pelvic area. I have such a passion for bringing this information forward that I wrote a book Pelvic Zone Coach, Every Wonan’s Guide To Pelvic Health and Sexual Vitality (available on Amazon).
Your pelvic floor is the group of muscles and ligaments in your pelvic region. The pelvic floor acts like a sling to support the organs in your pelvis — including the bladder, rectum, and uterus or prostate. Contracting and relaxing these muscles allows you to control your bowel movements, urination, and, for women particularly, sexual intercourse.
If you think of the pelvis as being the home to organs like the bladder, uterus (or prostate in men) and rectum, the pelvic floor muscles are the home’s foundation. These muscles act as the support structure keeping everything in place within your body. Your pelvic floor muscles add support to several of your organs by wrapping around your pelvic bone. Some of these muscles add more stability by forming a sling around the rectum.
I’ve had problems with my lumbar spine all of my adult life, including spina bifida occulta. I underwent a lumbar fusion about 6 years ago. I was diagnosed with PFD about a year ago with extremely tight pelvic floor muscles. Three months after my diagnosis I underwent more back surgery including removing the original hardware and another fusion, including fusion of my pelvis. Since the second surgery I’ve experienced increased pain in my pelvis, hips and lower back, and a lack of mobility that I can only attribute to the surgery. How does having a fused pelvis affect therapeutic solutions for PFD?
^ Masterson, Thomas A.; Masterson, John M.; Azzinaro, Jessica; Manderson, Lattoya; Swain, Sanjaya; Ramasamy, Ranjith (October 2017). "Comprehensive pelvic floor physical therapy program for men with idiopathic chronic pelvic pain syndrome: a prospective study". Translational Andrology and Urology. 6 (5): 910–915. doi:10.21037/tau.2017.08.17. PMC 5673826. PMID 29184791.
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.
Surface electrodes (self-adhesive pads placed on your skin) can test your pelvic muscle control. This might be an option if you don’t want an internal exam. The electrodes are placed on the perineum (the area between the vagina and rectum in women, and between the testicles and rectum in men) or on the sacrum (the triangular bone at the base of your spine). This test is not painful.
The term “vaginal massage” may not be legit—practitioners don’t like to use it—but the treatment is. In fact, it’s part of a well-rounded therapy regimen for pelvic floor physical therapy. Certified specialists in this field can help women who are dealing with pain during sex—something 75% of women experience at some point in life, according to research.
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.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is a common condition where you’re unable to correctly relax and coordinate the muscles in your pelvic floor to urinate or to have a bowel movement. If you’re a woman, you may also feel pain during sex, and if you’re a man you may have problems having or keeping an erection (erectile dysfunction or ED). Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles found in the floor (the base) of your pelvis (the bottom of your torso).
Myofascial release was developed by John Barnes to evaluate and treat the myo-fascia throughout the body. The myofascial system is the connective tissue that coats our muscles, nerves, blood vessels, and bones, and runs throughout our bodies. Any tightness or dysfunction in the myofascial system can affect the aforementioned structures and result in pain and or movement dysfunction. By treating the fascia directly, therapists can improve their patient’s range of motion, reduce pain, and improve a patient’s structure and movement patterns.