The pelvic floor is a structure of muscle and connective tissues that attaches to your pelvis, separates the pelvic cavity from the perineum, and surrounds the genitalia and anus.
For many women, after childbirth or invasive surgery, this area can become weak, stretched or damaged. In this article we’re going to focus on why the pelvic floor is important, how rehabilitation works and what to expect.
Why is the Pelvic Floor Important?
As the floor of the pelvic cavity, these muscles have important roles to play in the correct functioning of the pelvic and abdominal tissues.
The pelvic floor serves a few crucial purposes:
- Support of abdomino-pelvic viscera: this includes the bladder, intestines and uterus.
- Stabilises the core at the pelvis: important for keeping your spine safe during basic activities like coughing or lifting heavy objects.
- Continence: The pelvic floor includes the muscle fibres that control your urinary and rectal excretions – they allow you to control these functions consciously.
Challenges to the Pelvic Floor
With all of these important roles in the body, it’s worth noting how common pelvic floor injuries are. Childbirth is the most common cause, with tears to the pelvic floor being commonplace during labour.
The muscles of the pelvic floor are also crucial to supporting the head of the foetus during childbirth but undergo tremendous stress during pregnancy and labour.
This means that many women will experience damage and weakness in the pelvic floor after childbirth, but very few treat this problem with directed exercise and rehabilitation.
Due to their role in supporting the vagina, urethra and anal canal, injury to these muscles can lead to various problems.
Incontinence is a common and uncomfortable problem that may arise after childbirth, surgery or a hysterectomy. Incontinence can show up when lifting heavy objects or simply coughing/sneezing, as these simple activities increase pressure in the abdomen and expose weakness in the pelvic floor muscles.
Pelvic Floor Surgery/Hysterectomy
Pelvic floor surgery is often the treatment for tears and other problems in the region – especially following childbirth or lower-pelvic trauma. A Hysterectomy requires invasive surgery and an incision to the pelvic floor itself.
While these surgeries come with their own risks, they’re a crucial for many women. However, they only ensure that the pelvic floor is anatomically correct – they’re not aimed at strengthening the tissues themselves.
Strengthening your pelvic floor by yourself is key to long-term health, prevents a huge variety of post-surgery problems and improves your control of, and confidence in, your body.
Recovery, Rehab and Strengthening your Pelvic Floor
Rehab for the pelvic floor begins with dedicated, gentle exercise. Exercise like kegels are aimed at regaining control and function in the pelvic floor muscles.
Kegels are a common exercise for strengthening the pelvic floor. This exercise simply involves contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor as much as possible. It’s the same sensation that you’ll feel if you attempt to stop urinating halfway through.
Once you’ve learned this movement and can perform it reliably, practicing intentionally is the best way to train and strengthen the pattern. You can perform 5 sets of 10 repetitions 2-3 times a day for the best effects. This will provide you with more passive and active control, meaning better continence and improved control over your own functions.
After you’ve isolated the kegel movement, you should begin to undertake other exercises as well. We recommend sticking with the kegels as you advance, but they should not be the only form of exercise. As soon as continence is no longer a challenge, you should focus on lower-body strengthening exercises that involve the core and hips.
Exercises like bridges, squats, dead-bugs, bird-dogs and hollow holds are all great choices to strengthen the core and pelvic floor. Using these exercises, you’ll not only be able to return to normal function but improve your fitness and wellbeing – it’s very possible to reach the best shape of your life post-rehab!
Timing and Individual Differences
Notice that we never set a time expectation for rehabilitation. That’s because your individual case is going to dictate the recovery time you experience. Everything from the initial damage, to the surgery is going to play a part in your long-term recovery and it’s not something you can predict perfectly.
Your individual case is going to be the key factor in your recovery time and, for some, continence may never fully return. We can definitively say that rehabilitation is going to be a faster and healthier option than simply avoiding the problem, and improving your health is always the best investment.
Incontinence after a pelvic floor surgery or hysterectomy is very common and it’s a problem that women shouldn’t have to deal with. Effective strength and rehabilitation is one way of dealing with the problem.
This is exactly why women’s health physiotherapy exists: to deal with the unnecessary problems that women face and improve their quality of life!
Our approach to physiotherapy is to deal with these problems in a sustainable and compassionate manner. Full consultation on your pelvic floor physiotherapy and rehabilitation is the best way to recover post-op and will ensure a healthy and effective return to function and beyond.
Surgical interventions dealing with the pelvic floor can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Incontinence is an exceptionally common symptom of injury to the pelvic floor and in many cases it’s avoidable with the right approach.
If you’re concerned about your own pelvic floor, we’d love to hear about your case and what we can do for you. Rehabilitation can be a bewildering process without guidance and, done poorly, it can cause other problems.
Put your recovery in the hands of experts and ensure your peace of mind. We’re always on-hand to provide the best, most compassionate and individualised service possible.