How a tight pelvic floor can cause urinary incontinence and other issues

  • Tightness of any group of muscles can lead to movement issues and discomfort
  • The pelvic floor muscles are no different, but we tend to confuse 'tight' muscles with 'strong' muscles
  • Tight pelvic floor muscles can lead to a host of health problems

Tighter sounds better when it comes to muscles, right? In the case of the body’s muscle groups, the pelvic floor is often overlooked, even though it fulfils the important role of controlling bladder and bowel movements, as well as supporting all the organs in the pelvic region (the bladder, bowel and uterus).

These firm muscles form a “mini-trampoline” to provide a base for these organs and also to support the spine. But what happens when these muscles become too tight?

The difference between 'tight' and 'strong'

Women have been obsessed with “tightness” down there for a long time – and Kegel exercises are often promoted to assist in achieving tightness. But when muscles tighten too much, they don’t allow for functional movement and can cause a host of problems.

Just like the other muscles in our bodies, the pelvic floor muscles require lengthening and stretching of the connective tissue, also known as the fascia. Chronic tension and tightness are never good for any muscle group, including the pelvic floor.

Therefore, some experts believe that there is more to a healthy pelvic floor than Kegel exercises. While these exercises do contribute to a stronger pelvic floor, they don’t do enough to lengthen these muscles and to keep them supple.

According to a previous Health24 article, Kegel exercises are basically concentric contraction, which causes muscles to shorten, thereby generating force, whereas eccentric contractions cause muscles to elongate in response to a greater opposing force. Translation: Kegels only work the muscle in one way (tightening). If you want to have real strength in your pelvic floor, it must be able to stretch or elongate and release, as well as tighten.

What causes tight pelvic floor muscles?

There are several factors that can contribute to tightness in the pelvic floor muscles. These include:

  • Overtraining of your core muscles or too many pelvic floor muscle exercises such as Kegels
  • Regularly “holding in” urine or stool when it’s difficult to go to the bathroom
  • Anxiety and high stress levels
  • Scar tissue from abdominal surgeries or birth
  • Pelvic disorders such as interstitial cystitis
  • Endometriosis or any other inflammatory conditions of the reproductive area

What can happen when the pelvic floor is too tight?

When the muscles in the pelvic floor are too tight, they might cause a host of problems including:

  • Urge incontinence
  • Painful urination
  • Struggling to empty the bladder completely
  • Pain in the lower back, pelvic area or genital area
  • Pain during and after sexual intercourse
  • Involuntary spasms of the pelvic floor muscles
  • Pain in your tailbone
  • Constipation

So, how does one prevent or fix pelvic floor tightness?

If you are suffering from unexplained back pain, paired with sudden infrequent urination or other incontinence conditions, it is likely that you may be experiencing tightness in your pelvic floor, but it’s important to visit your doctor or gynaecologist to first rule out any other underlying causes.

Tightness in the pelvic floor can also be rectified by the following simple exercises:

  • “Belly breathing”, where you expand your diaphragm and abdomen as you inhale through your nose. As you exhale, allow the air to flow out of you without effort, focusing from the ribs, downward to the pelvic floor. Exhale through pursed lips.
  • Stretch and release by kneeling down in “child’s pose” – place your bottom on your heels and rest your head and elbows on the floor in front of you as you inhale and exhale.
  • Stretch your abdominal area by lying face down on the floor and placing your hands out forward.
  • Stretch your hips by lying on your back with your knees bent, placing your foot on the opposite knee. Switch sides.

READ | It's not your imagination: You are peeing more in winter

READ | Why your pelvic floor muscles are just as important as your other muscle groups

READ | What your bladder is trying to tell you about your health 

Image credit: Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

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