For some, a weak pelvic floor looks like leaking a little urine with a cough or sneeze. For others, it is experiencing pelvic organ prolapse or incontinence.
Usually, weak pelvic floor muscles appear in people who have been through menopause or pregnancy, or who experience constant constipation, coughing or heavy lifting. But Janie Thompson, manager of the National Continence Helpline, says care of the pelvic floor is “important for everyone”.
Your pelvic floor is crucial to everyday bodily functions. Made up of muscle and tissue between the tailbone and pelvis, the pelvic floor supports the bladder, uterus and bowels. It also stabilises core strength, and supports sexual functions such as orgasm.
Although your pelvic floor muscles are not “obvious”, Thompson says they are “important” to exercise as “the base of your core”.
Working on exercise movements for pelvic floor muscles is “a bit like weight lifting”, she explains. Thompson’s top tip is to build pelvic floor exercises into your daily routine.
“Think about something you do every day”, like boiling a kettle, taking medication or visiting the toilet, she says. Then, treat that daily action like a “prompt” to do an exercise.
For women, Thompson says pelvic floor exercises should feel like “winking your vagina”.
While sitting, standing or lying on your back, think of the muscles you would tighten to stop urinating or passing wind. Once located, squeeze the muscles and hold for three to five seconds.
“Think of pulling the vagina up,” she explains of the gentle, upwards lifting movement you should feel when completing the exercise.
After squeezing, release to feel the tension go. Be sure to rest for a few seconds between each squeeze, and try repeating up to 10 times.
For men, the exercise is similar. “Try to pull your penis into your body. You want to feel your scrotum curling up.”
“Think about lifting your penis up, and then the feeling of letting go. You will feel a release in your penis.”
Thompson’s final piece of advice is to always “seek help” from specialists at the National Continence Helpline if ever in doubt of pelvic floor function.
“Young people might not know what is normal, or that there is anything wrong,” she says, of undetected pelvic floor weakness or problems. “It is better to seek help sooner rather than later.”