Pelvic floor dysfunction is often associated with women in pregnancy; however, anyone can experience pelvic floor problems in their lifetime.
Pelvic floor therapy is the specialized treatment of pelvic floor problems in women and men. It includes exercises that stabilize and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, the core, the abdomen, and the diaphragm to help patients relieve pain and discomfort and to improve their quality of life.
What is the pelvic floor? What are the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, and what to expect from pelvic floor physical therapy for women and men? Find out from the article below.
What is the Pelvic Floor?
The pelvic floor comprises the group of muscles and connective tissues that support the urinary and reproductive tracts and control the bladder and bowels.
In women, the pelvic floor supports the bladder, vagina, and rectum. The uterus is held in place by muscles, tendons, and connective tissue in the upper part of the pelvic floor. In men, the pelvic floor supports the bladder, bowels, urethra, and rectum.
If the pelvic floor muscles are weak or don’t work as they should, this is called pelvic floor dysfunction, which can occur in both women and men and result in unpleasant symptoms such as incontinence and loss of sexual sensation.
What to Expect During a Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Assessment?
Pelvic floor physical therapy helps restore mobility and reduces pain. The first step to achieve this is a comprehensive assessment that includes the following:
- A thorough review of your medical history and your symptoms
- An evaluation of areas that are tight, painful, or dysfunctional
- A complete physical examination
During the first appointment, your physical therapist (PT) will assess your posture, breathing, range of motion, and muscle flexibility to determine the cause of pelvic floor dysfunction. At this point, you are encouraged to share as much information as possible about your symptoms: when the pain occurs and if there is anything you think relieves or worsens the pain.
The physical therapist will then perform a physical examination externally and, if necessary, internally. Many patients are anxious about the internal exam, but it is important to remember that physical therapists have special training in pelvic floor muscle disorders and routinely perform such tasks. If the internal exam makes you uncomfortable, share this with your PT. The first assessment should be a positive experience so that you can follow through with your personalized treatment plan, which the PT will develop based on the findings of the assessment.
What can be Treated with Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy?
Pelvic floor dysfunction can be caused by a number of factors, such as aging, pelvic surgery, pregnancy, injuries, muscle overuse, or being overweight.
Whatever the case, if your pelvic muscles are not working as they should, you may notice the following symptoms:
- A frequent need to urinate
- Constipation or pain during bowel movements
- Straining to pass a bowel movement
- Not being able to control your bowels or urine (incontinence)
- Unexplained pain in your lower back
- Pain in your pelvic region
In addition to the most common symptoms, men may experience groin pain, ejaculation problems, or erectile dysfunction. In women, pelvic floor dysfunction can affect reproductive health and contribute to pain during sexual intercourse.
If you experience any pelvic floor issues, be sure to discuss them with your healthcare provider so that you can start the necessary treatment.
Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Techniques and Exercises
Pelvic floor physical therapy includes various exercises to alleviate your symptoms.
Hypopressives abdominals strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, the abdominal muscles, and improve any postural imbalance that may affect the pelvic floor area.
Pelvic floor exercises (Kegels) help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles as you contract and relax them. Doing these exercises regularly will help improve blood circulation, relax your muscles, relieve Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI), and improve sexual health and pleasure. Kegels are mistakenly thought to be for women only, but they can also be successfully used in male pelvic floor physical therapy, for example, after prostate surgery. Your PT can teach you how to perform Kegels in your home so that you can practice them daily.
Weighted vaginal cones are used in women to help train pelvic floor muscles. They are inserted into the vagina, and you have to use pelvic muscle contractions to hold them in place. Your PT may recommend this exercise for 15 minutes daily, increasing the weight and duration once your muscles are stronger.
Electrical stimulation therapy is another effective technique to reduce pelvic pain, muscle spasms, and swelling, using painless electrical impulses delivered through electrodes that make your muscles contract and release. Treatment usually takes 10-20 minutes, which your PT can perform in the office or teach you how to do at home on your portable device.
Biofeedback is a procedure using special sensors to monitor the pelvic floor muscles as you relax and contract them. The sensors give feedback to your PT on how your exercises are progressing. The results will be displayed on a computer screen, which your PT uses to advise which muscles you need to strengthen to better control your pelvic floor.
Therapeutic ultrasound is often used by pelvic floor physical therapists. It is not to be confused with diagnostic ultrasound, even though it has some diagnostic capability. Instead, it provides deep heating of soft tissues like muscles, tendons, joints, and ligaments. This technique helps reduce inflammation, increase circulation, and decrease pain in the pelvic floor area.
Relaxation techniques, including yoga, meditation, and acupuncture, can be successful in calming both the body and mind. Your therapist may recommend such methods to help relieve the pain and emotional distress you may be experiencing due to pelvic floor dysfunction.
Both women and men experience pelvic floor problems in their lifetime, but many are often too intimidated to seek help. However, specialist pelvic floor therapy, performed by trained professionals, can help alleviate their symptoms, whether it’s incontinence, pain, or sexual dysfunction. When you consult a physical therapist and start your personalized treatment plan, you have a great chance of strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, relieving symptoms, alleviating pain, and improving your quality of life.
Chaux Physical Therapy uses a holistic approach to physical therapy, combining several techniques to alleviate your symptoms and strengthen your muscles. At your initial assessment, Dr. Alexandra Chaux will review your medical history and symptoms and perform a physical examination to provide you with a treatment plan best suited to your needs.