Pelvic Floor Health: Exercises and Tips for Women in the UK

Maintaining pelvic floor health is crucial for women, as it supports the bladder, bowel, and uterus, preventing issues like incontinence and prolapse. This comprehensive guide will explore the significance of a strong pelvic floor, common issues, effective exercises, and essential tips for UK women.

Understanding Pelvic Floor Health

What is the Pelvic Floor?

The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that stretch like a hammock from the pubic bone at the front to the tailbone at the back. These muscles support the bladder, bowel, and uterus in women. When these muscles are strong, they help control the release of urine and bowel movements and support the internal organs. The pelvic floor is a foundational support system for these critical bodily functions.

Common Issues

Pelvic floor problems can arise due to various factors such as pregnancy, childbirth, ageing, obesity, and certain medical conditions. Here are some common issues:

  • Incontinence: This includes stress urinary incontinence (leakage of urine during activities like coughing, sneezing, or exercising) and urge incontinence (a sudden, intense urge to urinate). These conditions can be particularly distressing and affect daily life.
  • Pelvic Organ Prolapse: This occurs when one or more of the pelvic organs drop from their normal position and push against the walls of the vagina. Prolapse can lead to a feeling of heaviness or dragging in the pelvic area and can significantly impact the quality of life.
  • Pelvic Pain: Chronic pelvic pain can be associated with a weak or overactive pelvic floor, leading to discomfort during intercourse or daily activities. This pain can be debilitating and often requires specialised treatment.

Importance of Pelvic Floor Health

Benefits of Maintaining Pelvic Floor Health

Maintaining a strong pelvic floor has numerous benefits:

  • Improved Bladder and Bowel Control: Reduces the risk of incontinence and the urgency or frequency of needing to use the toilet.
  • Reduced Risk of Prolapse: Helps keep pelvic organs in place and prevents them from descending.
  • Enhanced Recovery Post-Childbirth: Supports quicker recovery and reduces postpartum complications, allowing women to return to their daily activities more comfortably.
  • Better Sexual Function: This can enhance sexual satisfaction and reduce pain during intercourse, contributing to overall sexual health and intimacy.

Exercises for Pelvic Floor Health

Kegel Exercises

Kegel exercises are the most well-known exercises for strengthening the pelvic floor muscles.

How to Perform Kegel Exercises:

  1. Identify the Right Muscles: The easiest way to identify your pelvic floor muscles is to stop your urine flow midstream. Once identified, you can do the exercises in any position.
  2. Contract the Muscles: Tighten your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for three to five seconds, then relax for three to five seconds. As you progress, try to increase the duration of each contraction.
  3. Repeat: Aim for at least three sets of 10-15 repetitions daily.

Tips for Effective Kegels:

  • Ensure you are not holding your breath or tightening other muscles (e.g., buttocks, thighs, or abdomen). Focus on isolating the pelvic floor muscles.
  • Focus on slow, controlled contractions rather than quick pulses to build endurance and strength effectively.
  • Incorporate Kegel exercises into your daily routine, such as brushing your teeth or watching TV.

Other Exercises

While Kegels are crucial, other exercises can also help strengthen the pelvic floor:

  1. Squats: Squats engage the pelvic floor muscles, glutes, and thighs.
    • How to Perform: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, lower your hips as if sitting back into a chair, and then return to standing. Ensure your knees do not extend past your toes.
    • Benefits: Strengthens the lower body and pelvic floor, promoting overall stability.
  2. Bridge: This exercise targets the glutes and pelvic floor.
    • How to Perform: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift your hips towards the ceiling, squeeze your glutes and pelvic floor at the top, and lower back down.
    • Benefits: Enhances core stability and pelvic floor strength.
  3. Pilates: Pilates focuses on core strength, which includes the pelvic floor.
    • How to Perform: Exercises like the ‘Hundred’ or ‘Single Leg Stretch’ can help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
    • Benefits: Improve overall body alignment and muscular balance, reducing pelvic floor dysfunction risk.

Tips for Pelvic Floor Health

Daily Habits

  • Stay Hydrated: Drinking plenty of water helps maintain bladder health and prevent constipation. Aim for at least 6-8 glasses of water a day.
  • Avoid Constipation: A high-fibre diet with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains helps keep bowel movements regular and reduces strain on the pelvic floor. Consider incorporating foods like oats, lentils, and flaxseeds into your meals.
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: Reducing excess weight decreases pressure on the pelvic floor muscles. Regular physical activity and a balanced diet can help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Avoid Heavy Lifting: If possible, reduce activities that involve heavy lifting, which can strain the pelvic floor. When lifting, ensure proper technique by using your legs rather than your back.
  • Stop Smoking: Chronic coughing from smoking can weaken the pelvic floor over time. Seek support to quit smoking and reduce the strain on your pelvic muscles.
  • Regular Exercise: Regular physical activity helps maintain overall muscle tone and strength, including the pelvic floor. Activities like walking, swimming, and yoga are excellent for overall health.

Seeking Professional Help

When to See a Specialist

If you experience persistent pelvic pain, continual incontinence issues, or challenges with recovery post-childbirth, it may be time to consult a specialist. Seeking professional help ensures you receive a tailored approach to your pelvic floor health.

Types of Specialists

  • Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist: A physiotherapist specialising in pelvic health can provide personalised exercises and treatments. They can help you identify the right muscles, teach you how to do the exercises correctly, and create a tailored plan for your needs.
  • Urogynecologist: A doctor specialising in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery can offer advanced treatment options for severe cases. Depending on the severity of your condition, they can provide surgical and non-surgical options.

Resources in the UK

NHS Services

The NHS provides various services for pelvic floor health, including access to pelvic floor physiotherapists. You can consult your GP for a referral to these services. NHS websites also offer comprehensive guides and resources on managing pelvic floor health.

Support Groups and Resources

There are several support groups and online resources available for women experiencing pelvic floor issues. These platforms offer advice, shared experiences, and community support. Some useful resources include:

  • The Bladder and Bowel Community offers information and support for individuals with bladder and bowel conditions. It provides access to various resources, including forums, guides, and expert advice.
  • Pelvic Floor Society: This organisation provides resources and information on pelvic floor health. It also offers professional advice and connects individuals with healthcare providers specialising in pelvic health.

Wrapping Up

Maintaining pelvic floor health is an essential aspect of overall well-being for women. By incorporating exercises like Kegels, making healthy lifestyle choices, and seeking professional help, you can ensure your pelvic floor muscles remain strong and functional. Prioritising pelvic health improves your quality of life and supports long-term wellness.

Investing time in your pelvic floor health is a step towards a healthier, more confident you. You can prevent and manage pelvic floor issues by staying informed and proactive. Whether through regular exercise, dietary changes, or professional consultations, taking care of your pelvic floor is crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being.

If you are experiencing any symptoms or concerns related to your pelvic floor, don’t hesitate to contact a healthcare professional. Early intervention can make a significant difference in managing and improving your condition. Embrace the journey towards better pelvic floor health and enjoy the benefits of a strong and resilient foundation.

Following these exercises and tips, you can maintain a healthy pelvic floor and improve your quality of life. Remember, prioritising pelvic health is an investment in your overall well-being. 

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