What are pelvic floor muscles and what do they do?
Almost everyone has heard of physical therapy, but a large portion of individuals
are not familiar with the specialized field of
pelvic floor physical therapy and the important part it can play in helping women.
First, it’s important to understand the role of the pelvic floor
muscles. This network of muscles are found at the base of the pelvis,
extending from front to back and side to side, similar to a hammock. They
maintain continence, support organs in the pelvic cavity, stabilize joints
in the hip and lower portion of the spine, help support the key muscles
used in intercourse and pregnancy, and also they help pump blood out of
the pelvic cavity toward the heart.
Many pelvic floor disorders, such as urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence
and pelvic organ prolapse, are actually a result of a musculoskeletal
dysfunction. For example, if the muscles of the pelvic floor are weak,
or hypotonic, they may be unable to maintain adequate muscle control,
resulting in urinary or fecal incontinence. Weak pelvic floor muscles
can also cause pelvic organ prolapse when various organs of the pelvic
cavity lose support and begin to descend through the vaginal canal. In
other cases, the pelvic floor muscles are too tight, or hypertonic, and
can compress the urethra and bladder resulting in urinary urgency and/or
urge incontinence, as well as painful intercourse.
According to the National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD),
more than one-third of women in the U.S. have a pelvic floor disorder
and almost a quarter have one or more symptomatic pelvic floor disorders.
Musculoskeletal dysfunction within the muscles of the pelvic floor contributes
to many different pelvic floor disorders, and physical therapy treatment
is now being recognized within the literature as a first-line of defense
against a variety of pelvic floor disorders.
What is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy?
A physical therapist goes through extensive education in order to evaluate
and treat musculoskeletal and neuromuscular dysfunctions throughout the
body, including the pelvic floor. Physical therapists that have specialized
training in treatment of the pelvic floor can provide skilled one-on-one
care to individuals suffering from a variety of pelvic floor disorders,
including but not limited to urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence
and pelvic organ prolapse. Due to the sensitive nature of this particular
therapy, many people are incredibly nervous and do not know what to expect
when they arrive for their initial evaluation. Special care is taken to
ensure that the patient feels comfortable and is, at all times, in control
of the evaluation and treatment.
During the initial evaluation, a history is obtained and an objective assessment
is performed, in order to create an individualized treatment plan based
on the specific complaints and symptoms the patient is experiencing. After
a plan of care is established on the initial evaluation, patients typically
return 1-2 times per week for 45-minute treatment sessions. Treatment
of pelvic floor disorders include a combination of manual therapy techniques,
pelvic floor muscle exercises and behavioral training, tailored to address
an individual patient’s needs.
Overall, pelvic floor physical therapy care is geared toward eliminating
the symptoms of pelvic floor disorders, in order to improve an individual’s
quality of life. Understandably, people are often embarrassed or ashamed
of their condition and the symptoms it causes, which hinders discussions
with their loved ones and physicians, and ultimately, causes a delay in
the initiation of treatment. Pelvic floor physical therapy is a non-invasive
treatment option that can drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the uncomfortable
symptoms associated with these conditions. Don’t wait. There is
hope. If you or someone you know is suffering from a pelvic floor disorder,
speak with your Physician regarding a referral for Physical Therapy care.
Becca Woodring, PT, DPT is accepting new patient referrals for pelvic floor
therapy evaluation and treatment. Please speak with your OB/GYN or primary
care provider to understand if this can help you. Need a doctor?
Click here to find your women’s health expert.