I learned so much about the pelvic floor – that seldom talked about area between your tail bone at the back, sitz bones to the side, and pubic bone to the front. One of the best ways to break the stigma of pelvic floor disorders is to speak candidly about them, which I will do here. (If you get squeamish with this type of stuff, this is your warning!)
Pelvic floor disorders are surprisingly common, and include things such as stress incontinence (peeing a bit when you cough, sneeze, laugh, or exercise), overactive bladder (having a frequent urge to pee or having to get up to pee at night), prolapse (when the organs of the pelvic floor, such as the bladder, uterus, and bowel, begin to fall out of place), and bowel incontinence (having a hard time controlling when you pass gas or have a bowel movement). They are usually caused by childbirth, aging or obesity, and can occur in both women and men.
Some surprising stats about the frequency of pelvic floor disorders:
- 1 out of every 5 North Americans (of every age) suffer from some type of pelvic floor dysfunction at some time in their life.
- 33% of women experience problems with bladder control.
- Approximately 40% of female elite athletes suffer from stress urinary incontinence.
- 40% of women between the ages of 45 – 85 will have at least moderate prolapse.
- Vaginal childbirth is associated with almost a 1 in 3 chance of developing bladder incontinence and a 1 in 20 chance of developing an inability to control bowel movements.
- 16% of men have overactive bladder, and 5 to 15% erectile dysfunction.
The effects of these and other pelvic floor disorders can be quite severe. When compared to other common chronic medical conditions, Overactive Bladder Syndrome was second only to major depression in terms of impact on quality of life – many people just stop leaving their house for fear of an accident. Loss of bowel and bladder control is the number one reason that people end up in nursing homes.
We heard about people who had virtually stopped laughing for fear of peeing.
We saw very disturbing images of what can happen “down there” if you let a prolapse go untreated for too long.
We learned about young girls from Africa who are shunned from their village after developing a pelvic floor disorder following childbirth.
It was an eye opening experience to say the least.
In France, the government offers every woman who has had a baby some form of pelvic floor physical rehabilitation. In North America, we just don’t talk about it. For most of us, we often don’t realize that we have a condition in the first place, we accept the condition as normal and just live with it, or we turn to surgery to correct the problem once it has gotten so severe. Surgery comes with risks and potential complications, and is not a cure. In fact, 25 to 40% of all prolapse repairs will recur within 5 years of the initial surgery. If you don’t strengthen your pelvic floor through rehabilitation, you can prolapse again.
And now that I’ve completely freaked you out – here’s the good news: most pelvic floor disorders can be corrected or prevented through specific exercises!
As for myself – I have always had what’s I’ve called a “weak bladder”, and would get up often throughout the night to pee. After I had my son, my bladder became so “weak” that I was no longer able to go for a run further than just around the block. Every cough, sneeze or laugh meant that I might pee a little. I had been “doing my kegels” and am in decent shape, so it never occurred to me that this was a pelvic floor disorder, that it wasn’t normal, and that there was an easy fix for this condition.
Typically, kegels are prescribed to strengthen the pelvic floor. Now imagine for a moment, that to strengthen your quadriceps, you were asked to sit in a chair and contract and release those thigh muscles over and over again. How effective would that be? The same goes for the pelvic floor. We can strengthen it way more effectively with functional movements – moving the muscle in the way it was designed to be moved.