Pelvic Floor Dysfunction: What It Is And The Best Treatments

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Alexandra Lozovschi

The pelvic floor is made up of a series of muscles and ligaments that support your pelvis and help keep your bladder, rectum, and reproductive organs (uterus and vagina in women, and prostate in men) in place. Since these muscles are essential both for the excretory and reproductive system, pelvic floor dysfunction can affect your quality of life, leading to painful urination, constipation, and incontinence, as well as erectile dysfunction in men and pain during sex in women.

The good news is, you don't need surgery to treat it. In most cases, the symptoms can be greatly improved with physical therapy, although it may take a few months to experience a notable change.

Here's what it's all about.

Physical Therapy For Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

One of the primary treatments for pelvic floor dysfunction is physical therapy. Since the condition involves the inability to relax and coordinate your pelvic floor muscles in order to urinate or have a bowel movement, physical therapy targets identifying the exact muscles that are too tight to work properly.

"Normally, you’re able to go to the bathroom with no problem because your body tightens and relaxes its pelvic floor muscles. This is just like any other muscular action, like tightening your biceps when you lift a heavy box or clenching your fist," explains the Cleveland Clinic. "But if you have pelvic floor dysfunction, your body keeps tightening these muscles instead of relaxing them like it should."

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How Physical Therapy Can Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor Muscles

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Since pelvic floor dysfunction affects muscle tissue, treating it with physical therapy follows more or less the same course as with any other muscle disorder. The condition is brought on by overuse of your pelvic muscles, such as going to the bathroom too often or pushing too hard to pass stool, with injury, overweight, pregnancy, pelvic surgery, and age also being potential causes.

Once your therapist determines which muscles in your lower back and pelvic floor are too stiff and tight, they will devise the best strategy to improve their coordination. This will involve you learning how to do targetted exercises to help stretch the affected muscles, which must be performed regularly with no exception.

Biofeedback

Another treatment option for pelvic floor dysfunction that is both non-surgical and painless is biofeedback -- a process that uses special sensors and video feed to monitor the muscles as you try to relax or clench them. The readings are displayed on a screen, making it easy for your therapist to see the progress once you start retraining those muscles to improve coordination.

Biofeedback "helps over 75% of people with pelvic floor dysfunction," notes the Cleveland Clinic, which describes the procedure in detail here.

"As you try each suggestion [to retrain your muscles], you can watch how it affects the results on the screen in real-time. With practice, you can learn to create the same bodily changes without the feedback screen or the practitioner’s prompts."

Medication & Other Treatment Options

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Because constipation is one of the main symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, treatment options also include medication to help keep your bowel movements soft and regular. Taking stool softeners every day is a very important step in alleviating the condition, with MiraLAX, Colace, Senna being among the top choices. According to the Mayo Clinic, as many as 50 percent of people with chronic constipation have pelvic floor dysfunction.

Diet also plays a vital role in dealing with the condition, which can be hereditary in some cases. For instance, foods that are high in fiber should be avoided, as they can worsen your bloating symptoms and gas pains, as should fiber supplements.

However, one dietary supplement that is recommended is vitamin D, which has been shown to improve urinary incontinence in several studies.

Lastly, experimenting with different relaxation techniques can be extremely beneficial for recovery. According to the Cleveland Clinic, meditation, warm baths, yoga, and acupuncture can ease symptoms and relax your pelvic floor muscles.

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