Common causes of pelvic floor issues include pregnancy or childbirth, hysterectomy, certain sports, aging, or inactivity of the pelvic floor muscles, just to name a few. Once the pelvic floor has been compromised, problems such as incontinence, diminished sex drive, or even pelvic organ prolapse – when pelvic organs protrude into or outside of the vagina – can arise. The most common sign of a weak pelvic floor – which affects up to 25% of women – is involuntary urine leakage (incontinence). (2)
The pelvic floor muscles support various pelvic organs, including the bladder, prostate, rectum, and female reproductive organs. The muscles themselves are also involved in the functioning of the urinary and anal sphincters. When they are functioning normally, you are able to control your bowel and bladder movements by contracting and relaxing these muscles.
Medications: Daily medications that help to keep your bowel movements soft and regular are a very important part of treating pelvic floor dysfunction. Some of these medications are available over-the-counter at the drugstore and include stool softeners such as MiraLAX®, Colace®, Senna or generic stool softeners. Your primary care doctor or a gastroenterologist can help to advise you which medications are most helpful in keeping your stools soft.
Neural mobilization as the name implies, involves the restoration of neural structures back to their normal mobility: to glide and slide. Neural structures that cannot move properly can cause pain that can radiate down an extremity or into the trunk and can give the sensation of burning, zinging, and stabbing. Some orthopedic therapists practice this type of mobilization; common examples include the sciatic nerve in the leg and the ulnar nerve in the arm. Pelvic floor PTs focus on these nerves when they cause issues, but they also pay attention to nerves that innervate the perineum and genital region (bicycle seat area), such as the pudendal, iliohypogastric, obturator, ilioinguinal, genitofemoral and the femoral cutaneous nerves. By allowing these nerves to move freely, symptoms such as vulvovaginal, penile, rectal, clitoral and testicular pain, itching and burning can be greatly improved.
It is essential that we, as pelvic floor physical therapists, also include other assessments when we are examining our patients for the very first time. We employ the tried and true physical therapy exam practices to determine if there is an underlying condition elsewhere in your body, such as a strength deficit or alignment issue that could be affecting your pelvic floor. It’s wild to think of it, but something as seemingly unrelated as a flat foot or a hip injury can be enough to set off pelvic and abdominal pain!
Scars are almost always a fact of life. From surgeries, to accidents, to conditions like endometriosis, or certain STI’s, almost everybody has one. What doesn’t have to be a fact of life are the muscle, nerve and skin restrictions and overactivity that they can cause. By releasing scar tissue in physical therapy, it has been shown that the surrounding restrictions also decrease their resistance and adherence to the deeper tissues and surrounding organs.
Joint mobilization is a common and favorite tool of most orthopedic physical therapists. We love it so much because it can have so many different benefits depending on the type of technique used. Maitland describes types of joint mobilization on a scale between 1 and 5. Grade 1 and 2 mobilizations are applied to a joint to help to lessen pain and spasm. These types of mobilizations are typically used when a patient is in a lot of pain and to help break the pain cycle. On a non-painful joint, grade 3, 4, and 5 (grade 5 requires post graduate training) mobilizations can be used to help restore full range of motion. By restoring full range of motion within a restricted joint, it is possible to lessen the burden on that and surrounding joints, thereby alleviating pain and improving function.
It can take several months of routine bowel or urinary medications and pelvic floor physical therapy before symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction start to improve. The most important part of treatment is to not give up. Forgetting to take your medications every day will cause your symptoms to continue and possibly get worse. Also, skipping physical therapy appointments or not practicing exercises can slow healing.
Cleveland Clinic’s Ob/Gyn & Women’s Health Institute is committed to providing world-class care for women of all ages. We offer women's health services, obstetrics and gynecology throughout Northeast Ohio and beyond. Whether patients are referred to us or already have a Cleveland Clinic ob/gyn, we work closely with them to offer treatment recommendations and follow-up care to help you receive the best outcome.
Building and maintaining a strong pelvic floor is crucial for women of all ages. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles at the bottom of your pelvis that supports the womb, bladder, and bowels. So if these muscles become weak—whether it's due to childbirth, pregnancy, aging, or weight gain—it may be challenging to control your bladder and bowel activity. This is referred to as incontinence, a condition that affects nearly 25 million Americans, 75% to 80% of which are women.
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