Of all the muscles in the body, the pelvic floor is one of the most important to take into consideration when exercising – and the most neglected by both amateur and professional athletes.
The pelvic floor forms the base of the group of muscles referred to as the ‘core’.
These muscles are located in your pelvis, and stretch from the pubic bone at the front of the body to the coccyx at the back of the body, and from side to side.
The pelvic floor muscles work with your deep abdominal and back muscles and diaphragm to stabilise and support your spine.
They also help control the pressure inside your abdomen to deal with the pushing down force when you lift or strain – such as during exercise.
In many anatomy and physiology textbooks the pelvic floor is drawn as a hammock. But, in reality, the pelvic floor should be dome- shaped to repress the forces that are put upon it.
However, those internal pressures often create a hammock-shaped pelvic floor in many people, which then becomes less resistant to internal pressure.
Pelvic floor muscles support the bladder and bowel in men, and the bladder, bowel and uterus in women.
They also help maintain bladder and bowel control and play an important role in sexual sensation and function. Pretty important, don’t you think?
Those most at risk of pelvic floor problems are women who are pregnant or have recently had a baby, women who have never had a baby, women who are going through, or have been through, the menopause, women who have had gynaecological surgery (e.g. hysterectomy), men who have had prostate surgery and elite athletes such as gymnasts, runners or trampolinists.
Additional risk factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing pelvic floor problems include a history of back pain, previous trauma to the pelvic region such as a fall or pelvic radiotherapy, ongoing constipation, a chronic cough, being overweight or heavy lifting on a regular basis – either at work or at the gym.
Common signs that can indicate a pelvic floor problem include accidentally leaking urine when you exercise, laugh, cough or sneeze, needing to get to the toilet in a hurry or not making it there in time, constantly needing to go to the toilet, finding it difficult to empty your bladder or bowel, accidentally losing control of your bladder or bowel, accidentally passing wind or a prolapse; in women, this may be felt as a bulge in the vagina or a feeling of heaviness, discomfort, pulling, dragging or dropping.
In men, this may be felt as a bulge in the rectum or a feeling of needing to use their bowels but not actually needing to go, pain in the pelvic area or painful sex .
If you experience pelvic floor problems it is advisable to see a pelvic floor specialist to determine the cause of your symptoms and discuss the best treatment and management options to suit your needs.
However, there are things that you can do associated with your exercise routine which will help prevent and avoid pelvic floor problems and next week I’ll be letting you know all the things to avoid and to do when it comes to a healthy exercise regime that takes into account pelvic floor health.
Nikki Caputa is a health and fitness coach who works one-to-one with clients and runs her own fitness camps where she trains groups.
Known as FAB Body Bootcamps, two are based in Fareham and one is in Portsmouth
Nikki is also an ambassador for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.