Pelvic Floor Blog Series Part 2. The muscles of the Pelvic Floor.
What is the Pelvic Floor?
The Pelvic Floor muscles are a group of muscles that connect to the base of, and also within your incredible pelvic bones. They attach to the underside of your pelvis from front to back – from pubis to tailbone, and side to side – from sitz to sitz bone. (If you want to learn about the pelvic bones, please see my previous blog post here.)
You could imagine your pelvic floor muscles as being a bit similar in shape to a broad hammock, or like a diamond or kite shape.
From front to back your pelvic floor houses the urethra at the front (where wee comes out), the anus at the back (where poop comes out), and in women between the urethra and anus there is the vagina (which is where babies are born from, unless they’re born via a cesarean).
Why does the pelvic floor matter?
The pelvic bones are shaped a little bit like a bony ring, and the pelvic floor muscles provide a muscular base to this ring so that the contents of the pelvis don’t drop down through the opening in the base.
Think of a spring form cake tin – the sort where you can remove the base.
The pelvic floor muscles support the internal organs of our body. They coordinate with our respiratory diaphragm for breathing. They integrate with our core system for stability and optimal movement.
Your pelvic floor muscles are extremely important in supporting continence, and preventing leaking.
When working well, your pelvic floor muscles help you to not leak when you’re not ready to go to the toilet. And when you are ready to go to the toilet, the pelvic floor muscles relax to allow wee and poop out, and in birth they stretch to allow your baby to be born.
There’s a common misconception that if you do sometimes leak, that your pelvic floor muscles must be weak. But this isn’t necessarily true. It may be that your pelvic floor muscles are actually tight. Perhaps too tight. And although it might seem confusing, a tight muscle does not necessarily equal a strong muscle.
A lot of people I work with benefit from learning how to release AND relax their pelvic floor muscles BEFORE they’re able to get an effective contraction.
A tight pelvic floor can cause things like pelvic pain, hip pain, low back pain, leaking, and it can be tangled up with feelings of stress and anxiety, shallow breathing patterns, tight neck and shoulders. Interestingly, there’s recent research looking into the relationship between symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse and tension held in the pelvic floor, as well as stress and anxiety and also tension in the pelvic floor.
So, what happens to your pelvic floor?
During birth, the pelvic floor muscles stretch up to 200% of their usual length. This is what they’re designed to do! It’s an incredible amount for a muscle to stretch!
Healthy pelvic floor muscles will stretch to allow a baby to be born and then given appropriate and abundant rest and recovery time – just like any muscle needs after an intense workout – the pelvic floor will return to normal tone and function.
What do the pelvic floor muscles do?
Pelvic floor muscles are just like any other muscles in the body, they can both shorten AND lengthen.
Just like your bicep muscle in your arm contracts as you bend your elbow, and also lengthens as you straighten your elbow.
Your pelvic floor muscles shorten back to front and also side to side. So think of the Diamond shape of your pelvic floor shrinking front to back, back to front, and side to side. Your pelvic floor muscles also lift up – as if the floor of your pelvis is moving up within your pelvis up behind your pubic bone. Like an elevator going up one, two, three floors inside a building. And just as importantly, your pelvic floor also needs to come down again, and widen and broaden. This is the lengthening and release action of your pelvic floor muscles.
A healthy and functional pelvic floor will respond to the way you breathe, and the movements you make with your body.
Ideally, as you breathe in your pelvic floor will release and lengthen a bit, and as you breathe out your pelvic floor will draw in and lift a bit. Then when you move your body, ideally your pelvic floor will respond with just the right amount of tone to both support your internal organs, and help stabilise your pelvic bones from within.
This continuous movement of expansion and contraction of the pelvic floor is ideally a reflexive movement that happens automatically without you having to think about it. But sometimes this movement loses its organisation and this is when it’s worth spending time to connect with your pelvic floor to learn how to both release and activate it, and then how to integrate it into the way you breathe and the way you move your body in your everyday life.
Next in the pelvic floor blog series is all about the pelvic floor ligaments.
Image by www.designsbyduvetdays.com