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

  • We often overlook the huge role our pelvic floor muscles play
  • These muscles may be weakened by several factors and cause incontinence
  • There are ways to keep these muscles strong and healthy

When we think about muscle groups, we tend to think about the obvious ones – your glutes, your core, etc. – but how often do you think about the strength and function of your pelvic floor muscles?

The pelvic floor contains a layer of muscles that support the pelvic organs (the bladder and bowel in men, and the bladder, bowel and uterus in women) and span over the bottom of the pelvic floor, from the tailbone to the pubic bone, and from one sitting bone to another.

The pelvic floor muscles can be compared to a round mini-trampoline consisting of firm muscles that provide support for the organs above them.

Why are these muscles in the pelvic floor so important?

For a muscle group that is so well hidden, the pelvic floor muscles play a vital role in the body. Not only do they provide support for all the internal pelvic organs, but it give us control over our bladders and bowels, so that we can contain and control urine and stool movements.

The pelvic muscles also contribute to sexual function, as the pelvic muscles in men are vital for erectile function and ejaculation. In women, the pelvic floor muscles provide support for the uterus, especially when carrying a baby.

These muscles also work in conjunction with the muscles in the abdomen and back to provide support for the spine.

What happens when these muscles weaken?

Urinary and faecal incontinence can occur as a result of weakening pelvic muscles. These conditions are manageable, but affect one's quality of life.

Incontinence isn’t the only problem. Pelvic organ prolapse can also occur if these muscles are significantly weakened and damaged. This is when one or more of the organs in the pelvis slips downwards, often causing pain and severe discomfort. Pelvic organ prolapse can lead to urinary incontinence, as it can cause a significant feeling of pressure on the bladder, leading to urine leakage when you cough, sneeze, laugh or exercise.

Why do these muscles weaken?

There are many factors that cause the pelvic floor muscles to weaken. These include:

  • Childbirth
  • Chronic coughing
  • Prostate cancer treatment
  • Chronic constipation and subsequent straining
  • Obesity
  • Intensive high impact exercise over a prolonged period of time
  • Age
  • Heavy lifting

What are the signs of weakened pelvic floor muscles?

You may not immediately realise that your pelvic floor muscles are weakening until you start experiencing urinary incontinence. There are, however, some signs that suggest weakened pelvic muscles and possible organ prolapse:

  • Leaking urine when coughing, sneezing, laughing or exercising
  • Struggling to control urine
  • Passing wind when bending over or lifting heavy objects
  • Reduced sensitivity in the penis or vagina
  • Tampons that dislodge or fall out
  • A sense of heaviness or “bulging” in the vagina

How do you strengthen pelvic floor muscles?

The first step is to know where your pelvic muscles are located. If they are extremely weak, it may be difficult to locate these muscles. To find them, imagine that you are trying to stop the flow of urine mid-stream.

Performing pelvic floor exercises is very useful, the easiest one being Kegels:

Kegel muscle exercises for women

  • Start by finding your pelvic floor muscles. To do that, try to stop the flow when you are urinating. The muscles you use to do that are the pelvic floor muscles. Kegel exercises involve contracting and releasing those muscles.
  • Once you’ve identified the muscles, you can do Kegels any time.
  • Do the exercises at least three times a day, with ten to fifteen repetitions.

Kegel muscle exercises for men

Find your pelvic floor muscles by imagining that you are trying to stop passing gas. You can also try and engage these muscles by trying to lift up your testicles without using your hands.

  • You can now do Kegels anywhere.
  • Do the exercises at least three times a day, with ten to fifteen repetitions each time. 

What to remember:

  • It will take a couple of weeks for the exercises to show results.
  • Don't hesitate to ask a medical professional about Kegel exercises.
  • Combine Kegels with other ways to manage your incontinence.
  • Don't ignore urinary incontinence. The sooner you find help, the sooner you will be able to manage the condition. 

Besides Kegel exercises, there are eight other pelvic exercises that will not only benefit your bladder and bowel health, but will also help strengthen your abdominal muscles and help alleviate back pain.

READ | 5 reasons why you need to pee all the time 

READ | 5 avoidable triggers that can make urinary incontinence worse

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

Image credit: Anthony Shkraba from Pexels

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