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  • Kristin McNealus, DPT, MBA

What is Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?

Pelvic floor dysfunction is the inability to correctly contract (tighten) and relax the muscles in the pelvic floor. As discussed in the previous post, there are many muscles that support the pelvic organs.

If your muscles are weak, those organs do not have enough support. This can result in a prolapse of an organ (when it starts to drop or even come out of the body) or decrease the ability to empty the bladder or bowel. Weakness can cause pain. Weakness can be due to prolonged stretch such as during pregnancy and childbirth. Or from increased pressure downward such as from chronic coughing or straining to go to the bathroom. This could also be caused from heavy lifting because it is common to bear down if not making a conscious effort to breath and tighten the pelvic floor. Also, high intensity exercise causes the organs to bounce on the pelvic floor which can lead to stretch. Obesity can cause the muscles of the pelvic floor to not have the strength to hold the added weight, or change the length tension relationship for the muscles to contract optimally. And lastly age plays a big role. As estrogen decreases in women, the pelvic floor muscles lose volume. Muscles with less mass have to work harder to do the same job.

Muscles can also be too tight, which can lead to various pain syndromes, or feelings or bladder urgency, or bowel fullness. Tight muscles put pressure against organs and may not allow them to fully move the way they are meant to move.

Most causes of pelvic floor dysfunction are unknown. Traumatic injuries to the pelvic area, such as in an accident, and complications from vaginal childbirth can contribute to this condition. Also, experiencing any trauma can manifest itself in the pelvic muscles and lead to odd symptoms or pain that is difficult to locate or diagnose. Some causes are due to a learned behavior or posture that develop into a practice of muscle coordination that is incorrect.

The good news is that pelvic physical therapy may be able to help as these clinicians are experts in muscles, and whether you need to strengthen or stretch your pelvic floor muscles, a physical therapist can help. Your PT can determine if your issue is related to the pelvic floor muscles or not, and whether those muscles are too tight or weak. If you have an issue, it is certainly an avenue to explore. We can help.

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