Purpose Of Your Pelvic Floor
Your pelvic floor has a pretty important job and is essential for many vital functions within your body. It makes up the base of your core muscles, which include the abdominal muscles, back muscles and diaphragm.
The pelvic floor muscles are located below the bladder at the bottom of your pelvis. Shaped like a sling, these muscles stretch all the way from your pubic bone at the front to the your tailbone at the back. They also extend outwards to your sitting bones either side of your pelvis.
The muscles have three main components:
- Levator ani muscles (the largest component) - a sheet of muscle that is composed of three separate paired muscles: puboccygeus, puborectalis and iliococcygeus. These muscles attach to the pelvis.
- Coccygeus muscles - smaller, and positioned towards the back of the pelvis.
- Fascia - coverings of the muscles
The pelvic floor muscles join together to form a layered muscle with openings- the anus, urethra and vagina. These are the muscles you can feel when you squeeze these openings, for example when you use the loo.
To support the abdominal and pelvic viscera
Your pelvic floor muscles literally act as a ‘floor’ for the abdominal and pelvic viscera. These are the internal organs located in the abdomen and pelvic areas- the bowel, bladder and internal reproductive organs. For women, that includes the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes.
A properly functioning pelvic floor works to hold these organs in place and to control their normal function.
Maintain the continence of urine and faeces
Because the pelvic floor muscles support the bowel and bladder, they play an important role in maintaining the proper function of these organs.
The muscles will contract, lifting the internal organs and tightening the openings of the vagina, anus and urethra - meaning no leaks or surprises when you laugh or cough. Conversely, they will also relax, allowing you to use the loo when you need to.
Allows voiding, defecation, sexual activity, and childbirth
Just as the pelvic floor muscles work to support the internal organs to ensure that continence is maintained, they also work to ensure you’re able to use the loo, have sex too and give birth too.
A strong pelvic floor will allow the openings of the organs to close when the muscles are contracted, and then enable the passing of pee and poop when they’re relaxed. This process also allows for childbirth- the muscles need to be strong enough to support the growing baby, but they must also be able to relax enough for the baby to pass through during labour.
And according to this 2014 study, when it comes to sex, a strong pelvic floor that contracts and relaxes easily will result in a more pleasurable experience overall- with pain-free vaginal penetration and better blood flow resulting in stronger orgasms.
A pelvic floor that is too tight (meaning that the muscles are contracted too tightly and have trouble relaxing) can result in painful sex and problems with constipation and pelvic pain.
Pelvic Floor and Your Period
Your period can affect your pelvic floor too. Thanks to rising and falling levels of oestrogen throughout your cycle, muscle strength can vary, peaking around the time of your luteal phase (the 14 days between ovulation and your period) when oestrogen is at its highest.
According to this 2018 study, oestrogen “directly affects the structure and function of other musculoskeletal tissues such as muscle, tendon, and ligament. In these other musculoskeletal tissues, oestrogen improves muscle mass and strength, and increases the collagen content of connective tissues.”
Put simply, higher levels of oestrogen strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
As oestrogen levels start to decrease towards the end of your cycle, your pelvic floor muscles begin to weaken. This is completely normal, and most people won’t notice it happening.
However, if your pelvic floor muscles are already weakened, at this point in your cycle you may experience signs of further weakening. Some women report an increase in incontinence- such as leaking when they laugh or cough- towards the end of their cycle.
How To Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor
A weakened pelvic floor can occur after events such as injury or trauma, childbirth or surgery. During pregnancy, the pelvic floor can become weakened due to the extra weight being carried; the pelvic floor can also become weak through overuse, such as repeated heavy lifting or chronic constipation.
Hormonal changes can also cause a weakening of the pelvic floor, for example during menopause. Ageing and certain medical conditions such as diabetes can also play a role in the deterioration of pelvic floor strength.
When the pelvic floor is weakened, the bladder and bowel aren’t supported as well as they should be, so you may experience peeing when you laugh, cough or sneeze. You may also feel a sudden need to use the loo, or struggle to control your bowel movements. Some also experience back pain, as the muscles there take over to support the core.
If your pelvic floor is severely weakened, you may experience organ prolapse, where the unsupported organs bulge into the vagina.
Signs to look our for include:
- Leaking pee when you laugh, cough or sneeze
- Needing the loo urgently, and sometimes being unable to get there in time
- Passing wind when bending over
- A reduction in sensation in the vagina
- Noticing that tampons become dislodged or fall out easily
- Experiencing bulging at the opening of the vagina
- A heavy sensation in the vagina
- A heavy sensation in the pelvis or back
- Recurrent UTIs or thrush
- Painful sex
- Inability to reach orgasm
There are exercises for pelvic floor you can do easily at home to improve the strength of the muscles. A lot of these exercises can be done practically anywhere- either lying down, standing up or even while you’re waiting at the traffic lights.
The NHS advice is to first sit comfortably, with your knees slightly apart. Then think about squeezing the muscles around your anus, as if you’re trying to stop yourself from passing wind. You should be able to feel the muscles squeeze and lift, but your legs and buttocks shouldn’t move at all.
You can repeat this same exercise with the muscles you would use to stop your flow of urine. This will use the same group of muscles as before, but it might be a little more difficult at first.
Once you’ve mastered squeezing the muscles in this way, you can then focus on squeezing and tightening the muscles in both areas at the same time. Concentrate on trying to stop the flow of urine and stop wind at the same time. You can gently pull in your lower abdomen as you do this.
It can be tricky to get it right at first, so make sure that you’re not squeezing your legs together and don’t hold your breath.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecology advises that each squeeze of the muscles should be held for around 5 seconds at a time, working your way up gradually to 10 seconds when you’re able. Repeat up to 4 times, at least twice a day.
You can also do fast squeezes- where you contract and release straight away. These can be done in sets of 10.
There are also some great yoga positions to help strengthen your pelvic floor. Many yoga positions require you to lift and squeeze the pelvis floor muscles, and the great news is that these exercises can be done safely and easily while you’re on your period too.
What are the 3 layers of the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is made up of:
- The Levator ani muscles- a sheet of muscle attached to the pelvis
- The Coccygeus muscles
- Fascia, coverings of the muscles.
What is pelvic floor anatomy?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that literally hold up the internal organs located in the pelvis. Its responsible for the proper function of these organs and ensures that you are able to pee, poop and have sex.
Which 3 organs are located in the pelvic floor of a female?
For women, the pelvic floor supports and holds up the bladder, bowel and internal reproductive organs- the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.
What are the 5 functions of the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor has five important roles to play:
- Supporting the pelvic organs- keeping them in place in the pelvis
- Providing stability when we stand and walk
- Allowing for proper use of the bladder and bowel- releasing to allow the flow of urine and poop and contrasting to ensure no leaks
- Sexual function
- Circulation- helping to pump blood back up to the heart