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The Connection Between Your Pelvic Floor and Your Abdomen

What Is Your Pelvic Floor? How Does It Work Together with Your Abdomen?

Pelvic Floor and AbdomenOften, when you are experiencing discomfort in your abdomen or problems with incontinence, the culprit can be found in your pelvic floor muscles. If you are having challenges with bladder or bowel control, a physical therapist can conduct a thorough examination, identify potential issues and help you take steps to strengthen or relax your muscles and alleviate your problems.

What Are Your Pelvic Floor Muscles?

Your pelvic floor muscles are found at the base of what you commonly refer to as your “core.” The pelvic floor muscles extend from the pubic bone in the front of your torso to your tailbone or coccyx. The pelvic floor muscles work in tandem with the muscles in your back, stomach and diaphragm to both support your spine and regulate the pressure within your belly. They control your urethra, which helps you manage urine discharge and they help coordinate movement within your anus, so that you can defecate properly. In addition to helping you maintain bowel and bladder control, the pelvic floor muscles are essential for proper sexual function for both genders.

What Are the Common Conditions that Can Affect Your Pelvic Floor Muscles?

Perhaps the most common malady affecting your pelvic floor is a loss of strength/coordination in the muscles there. This weakness may stem from a number of factors, including chronic constipation, obesity, cancer treatment and pregnancy. Weakness in the pelvic floor muscles can lead to:

  • Urge incontinence—a persistent feeling that you need to urinate, combined with an inability to hold your urine
  • Stress incontinence—a loss of control of bladder function when coughing, sneezing, lifting, laughing or engaging in other physical activities
  • Fecal incontinence—loss of control of your bowels
  • Anal incontinence—an inability to control or prevent flatulence
  • Pelvic organ prolapse—most commonly found in women, this happens when your pelvic floor muscles are not strong enough to keep your bladder, rectum and/or uterus from bulging into your vagina

You can also experience distress if your pelvic floor muscles are too tight, even if they are sufficiently strong. Tension in the pelvic floor muscles may cause an inability to urinate voluntarily, as well as constipation.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help Improve Pelvic Floor Muscle Function?

A knowledgeable physical therapist can use exercises, manual techniques (such as massage) and movement coordination to help strengthen pelvic floor muscles. A physical therapist will typically conduct a thorough examination before prescribing a regimen of care, which may include an internal exam. The common exercises recommended for patients with pelvic floor muscle issues include:

  • Kegel exercises (kegels), also known as pelvic floor contractions, which, under the supervision of a pelvic floor therapist, can properly encourage pelvic floor strength or length
  • Core strengthening exercises, which may include exercises to target the hip, leg, back and abdominal muscles, including, but not limited to, exercises such as clamshells or bridges