The pelvic floor muscles span the bottom of the pelvis and support the pelvic organs (bladder and bowel, and uterus (womb) in women). When the pelvic floor muscles are weakened, they can create problems with bladder and bowel control.
A man’s pelvic floor muscles support his bladder and bowel. The urethra (urine tube) and the anus (back passage) all pass through the pelvic floor muscles.
A woman’s pelvic floor muscles support the bladder, bowel, and uterus (womb). The urethra (urine tube), anus (back passage) and vagina all pass through the pelvic floor muscles.
The pelvic floor muscles normally wrap quite firmly around these passages to help keep them shut. Your pelvic floor muscles help you to control your bladder and bowel and assist with sexual function. It is important to keep pelvic floor muscles strong.
Like any muscle in the body, pelvic floor muscles can be strengthened and trained with regular, targeted exercise.
In almost all cases it is possible to gain control over the pelvic floor muscles and train them to do their job well.
Pelvic floor muscle exercises can help with:
- improving bladder and bowel control
- reducing the risk of prolapse (in women)
- improving recovery after childbirth and surgery (in women)
- improving recovery after prostate surgery (in men)
- increased sexual sensation
- increased social confidence and quality of life.
The first thing you need to do is find out which muscles you need to train. It is very important to correctly identify your pelvic floor muscles before moving into a regular pelvic floor muscle exercise program. A pelvic floor physiotherapist can help with this and ensure you are engaging these muscles correctly.
Once you can feel your pelvic floor muscles working, you can start exercising them:
- Pelvic floor muscle exercises can be done anywhere – while sitting, standing or lying down.
- Squeeze and draw in the muscles around your anus (back passage) and vagina at the same time. Lift them UP inside. You should have a sense of “lift” each time you squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. Try to hold them strong and tight as you count to 8. Now, let them go and relax. You should have a distinct feeling of “letting go”. If you can’t hold for 8, just hold for as long as you can.
- Repeat “squeeze and lift” and let go. It is best to rest for about 8 seconds in between each lift up of the muscles.
- Repeat this “squeeze and lift” as many times as you can, up to a limit of 8 to 10 squeezes. This equals one set.
- Try to do three sets of 8 to 10 squeezes each day.
While doing pelvic floor muscle training:
- keep breathing
- only squeeze and lift
- do NOT tighten your buttocks
- keep your thighs relaxed.
Pelvic floor exercises are most effective when individually tailored and monitored. If you are not sure that you are doing the squeezes right, or if you do not see a change in symptoms after three months, ask for help from your family doctor, a Women's, Men's and Pelvic Health Physiotherapist or Nurse Continence Specialist.
Visit the Pelvic Floor First website for more information on pelvic floor exercises and ways to modify your exercise routine to suit your pelvic floor strength.
Finding the pelvic floor muscles can be difficult and it does take practice to squeeze the right muscles in the right way. If you don't feel a distinct 'squeeze and lift' of your pelvic floor muscles, ask for help from a Nurse Continence Specialist or a Women's, Men's and Pelvic Health Physiotherapist.
If there is a problem with bladder or bowel control, it is important to be properly assessed as weak pelvic floor muscles are just one of the many causes of incontinence.
You can also contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66. The National Continence Helpline is staffed by Nurse Continence Specialists who offer free and confidential information, advice and support. They also provide a wide range of continence-related resources and referrals to local services.
The exercises described above are only a guide and may not help if done incorrectly or if the training is inappropriate. Talk to your doctor, a Men's, Women's and Pelvic Health Physiotherapist, or contact the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 for further advice.