Enhancing your Pelvic Health
Pelvic health, especially in women, is becoming more well-known, talked about, and treated. Hooray! However, most of this awareness is around when things go wrong like peeing pants, pain with intercourse or other activities, lack of control of wind and more. Further, the focus is around women (men have pelvic floors too) and around times of hormonal and physical changes like pregnancy, birth and menopause.
Increased awareness of these issues being common and being treatable through pelvic health physiotherapy is wonderful. However, I still feel like we should be doing more work preventatively to limit theses issues from even happening or at least providing people basic tools to give their system some more resilience.
So here are my basic tips and tricks on how to bolster and support optimal pelvic health at any point in your life: mostly for women - especially our young women, but for men as well;):
1. Connect with this area: While there are some cultural and personal differences of opinion on this, health-wise it is important to know your body so you can know when something is off and you might need to seek help or guidance from a professional. Understanding the basics like where things are (anatomy - another post coming soon); what's normal for you; what feels safe/ good/ bad in this area (can be anything like clothing, movement, looking, touching, etc.); how does the area feel or how are you aware of this area with breath, movement and rest; are you able to not only strengthen but also RELAX this area. Check back for a breath and yoga video on how to increase awareness and connection to this important part of your body:).
2. Optimize gut health: The pelvic bowl houses the termination of our digestive track including our bladder and bowels. As such, our pelvic floor muscles control our ability to eliminate waste and so ensuring healthy digestion is key. If digestion is impaired, including constipation (not just skipping a bowel movement here and there, but also includes needing to use effort to empty, pain, or hard stool), this can put undue pressure &/or create dysfunctional compensation strategies of the pelvic floor muscles. This can then contribute to other pelvic floor dysfunction like incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse and more. Adequate hydration (of not sugar or caffeine laden beverages) and eating nutrient dense, non-pressed foods, and supplementing when needed (with advice from qualified care provider) are also pivotal for gut health. Gut health is also very much related to our overall health including our mental immune, and hormone systems.
3. Use the menstrual cycle as a 5th vital sign: As women, we have the amazing capacity to create, grow and birth human life. With that comes the (sometimes dreaded, but shouldn't be) monthly fluctuations in our hormones and subsequent period. However, what if we shifted our perspective on this and used aspects of it to give us information about our health? With numerous technological apps on the market now, we can track and review information like the time between periods, the length of bleeding, heaviness, and colour, as well as cervical fluids (that do change throughout the month around ovulation), body temperature, and mental-emotional states (yes hormones can make us crazy at times, but this can also be an indicator that things are not working optimally). This information can now, more than ever, be used to educate and empower us in our health.
4. Breathe: Our breath is intricately connected to our core and pelvic floor, as the respiratory diaphragm (our main muscle of breathing that sits like a parachute attached you our lower ribcage) works as part of our central stability system (i.e. the "core"). So we need to attune to our breath and optimize it. More than just the infamous "belly breathing", we need to actually expand the ribcage. Focus instead on allowing the lower ribs to expand backwards and sideways like a bucket handle on a pale as you take a deep breath in. Belly and chest will come along for the ride, but your focus is on moving that ribcage. You don't need to breathe like this all the time, but when at yoga, running or during meditation, see if you can shift the location of your breath to this more optimal spot to allow the diaphragm to move maximally. It is important to note that breath and mental health concerns like depression, anxiety and stress are also very intricately related; and in this way, mental health can impact pelvic health (more blog posts and interviews coming on that soon).
5. Don't strain: Because of the location of the pelvis (bottom of the trunk), it gets the brunt of everything on top of it. As such, the pelvic floor and pelvic organs are often victims of what is happening above. The lungs and diaphragm (i.e. coughing, breathing), abdominal organs including digestive tract (see #2 above), and abdominal wall and trunk movement/ stability (i.e. lifting, pushing, moving, etc. with the upper extremities anchored onto the trunk) all influence the pressure dynamics within our trunk and pelvis.
Thus, any increased non-optimal pressures or straining, including bearing down with emptying bladder or bowels, holding your breath with lifting, pushing or carrying loads can negatively influence the bottom bits - especially for those who have had recent injuries, trauma or bodily changes (i.e. pregnancy, birth or menopause) can negatively effect the function of the pelvic floor. Be mindful of increased pressures and if possible, try to exhale with effort to allow for the deep core system to provide some stability to limit downwards pressure into the pelvis.
As you can see there is much more to the pelvic floor and pelvic health than just kegels, pregnancy & birth. If ever you have questions, I am here to help:)
Wishing you a healthy pelvis for years to come!
Disclaimer - Everything shared is for informative purposes only. It is not intended for assessment, diagnosis or treatment purposes. If you feel there needs to be further investigation, please seek out a qualified health care professional for a proper assessment.