What is the pelvic floor and where is it?
The pelvic floor is a set of muscles at the base of the pelvic bowl.
There are 2 layers- the superficial layer (that you can see when you look at your perineum or vagina) and the deep layer known as the levator ani.
There are 3 openings within the deep pelvic floor muscle- the urethra/vaginal/anal opening.
So its main role is to keep us continent and support our pelvic organs. Pretty important jobs!
The pelvic organs are the bladder, the rectum and the uterus and they sit above the pelvic floor muscles, as you can see from this cross section of the female pelvis. The bladder is on the right and the rectum is on the left. The uterus lies over the bladder.
The pelvic floor muscles – Another important job
The pelvic floor is the foundations of our core system (the diaphragm is the top of the core, the back muscles and abdominal muscles are the walls for your core).
It works alongside your diaphragm as you breathe – you inhale the diaphragm moves down alongside the PF. You exhale – the diaphragm and pelvic floor both rise together like a piston.
How to find and engage your pelvic floor:
The pelvic floor lies between your tailbone and your pubic bone. So, to engage it, think of gathering up around your back passage, vagina and urethra in that order up and drawing them upwards inside your pelvis. Try to hold that gathering for the length of an exhale and then ensure you fully relax it on the inhale. Just gather it to 80%, so not a grip or squeeze.
Watch for cheating, like bum gripping, pelvic tilting or tummy gripping, when you are trying to isolate your pelvic floor.
If you want to strengthen the muscles you can repeat this gathering and relaxing with the breath for sets of 10 then have a few relaxing breaths, until fatigue
When you get the hang of this- you can also add in some longer holds whilst breathing and some quick flicks to train all the different muscle fibres.
You can place your fingers on you perineum (between your vulva and anal opening). Can you feel that area rise up and away from your finger as you contract?
If you are struggling to know if you are engaging or isolating your pelvic floor muscles, you can use a simple biofeedback device known as an educator (available on amazon). This basic probe with a stick lets you know whats happening.
Day-to day signs that the pelvic floor isn’t functioning properly are:
• Pain in pelvic/perineum
• Persistent painful sex
• Leaking urine or faeces
• Not fully voiding bladder
• Heaviness/dragging sensation
• A feeling of a bulge inside the vagina
If you have any of these common signs- you would benefit from a pelvic exam with Physiotherapist who specialises in the pelvic floor as there always ways to help with them.