Medical conditions such as pelvic floor dysfunction can be difficult to discuss. At times, admitting that you might have a problem with your pelvic floor might feel embarrassing, confusing, or even shameful. The reality is, that pelvic floor dysfunction is experienced by many people, making it more common than you think.
Think of your pelvic floor muscles as the supportive frame for your bladder and sex organs. As you can imagine, several pelvic floor disorders may result if your framework fails to work properly.
Let’s talk about some of the most common causes, symptoms, and recommended treatments for pelvic floor dysfunction and pelvic pain.
The Importance of the Pelvic Floor Muscles
The pelvic floor muscles hold your organs in place by wrapping around your pelvis, like a bowl. Importantly, these muscles control your bowel and bladder and contribute to sexual arousal. During pregnancy, the pelvic floor muscles support the growing fetus but must relax during the birthing process.
Anyone can experience pelvic floor dysfunction, but most pelvic floor disorders occur when the muscles contract too much or not enough. Changes in muscle contraction can affect the way you pass your urine, bowels, or experience sexual arousal.
Pelvic Floor Dysfunction Symptoms
When your pelvic floor muscles are affected, you can experience an array of symptoms, such as:
- Frequently needing to use the restroom
- Constipation or pain with bowel movements
- Difficulty passing a bowel movement
- Pain with urination
- Difficulty urinating
- Incontinence (urine or stool)
- Pain in your lower back
- Pain in your pelvis
Pelvic floor dysfunction is experienced differently by men and women. This is due to changes in anatomy, and the proximity of the pelvic floor muscles to the urinary, excretory, and reproductive organs.
Men may experience urinary dysfunction (incontinence), erectile dysfunction, or prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland). Women, on the other hand, may experience pain during sex as a result of pelvic floor dysfunction. Oftentimes, pelvic floor dysfunction in women is mistaken for pelvic organ prolapse, which is something to be aware of when considering your symptoms.
Causes of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
Determining the underlying cause of pelvic floor dysfunction or pelvic pain can be a bit tricky. This is because there’s no true cause for it – but there are factors and conditions that may predispose you to develop some pelvic floor disorders.
Some of the factors that may make you susceptible to pelvic floor dysfunction include:
- Traumatic injuries to the pelvic region
- Overuse of the pelvic floor muscles, or going to the bathroom too frequently
- Surgery of the pelvic region
- Being overweight
Additionally, certain individuals may be susceptible to pelvic floor dysfunction due to body structure and anatomy. Unfortunately, women are more susceptible to pelvic floor dysfunction than men.
When it comes to medical conditions that predispose someone to pelvic floor dysfunction, there are quite a few to consider. Some conditions, like the ones listed below, will affect the way your pelvic floor muscles work and contribute to abnormal function.
In truth, many of these predisposing medical conditions can result from bathroom habits. That “bearing down” movement that you rely on to go to the bathroom may lead to pelvic floor muscle spasms and, ultimately, an inability of those muscles to work properly.
Medical conditions that may lead to pelvic floor dysfunction:
- A cystocele results if the wall between the bladder and vagina weakens.
- Urethral prolapse, also known as a urethrocele, occurs when the ureter bulges into the vagina.
- When the uterus pushes into the vagina, it is known as uterine prolapse.
- Vaginal prolapse can be large or small and results when the vagina shifts out of place.
- If your intestines herniate into your vagina, you may suffer from an enterocele.
- Rectoceles occurs when the rectum bulges into the vagina.
- Rectal prolapse happens when the rectum herniates outside of the body.
- Constipation, or difficulty passing a bowel movement, is not only a symptom but also a condition, when chronic.
Treatment for Pelvic Floor Dysfunction
So, what can you do to treat pelvic floor dysfunction?
Fortunately, there are a lot of options – surgical and nonsurgical – to consider. Typically, treatment is handled fairly conservatively, with the nonsurgical route explored first.
Conservative treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction
1. Lifestyle Changes
One of the first methods of treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction is as simple as altering what you eat and drink.
Optimizing your diet and nutrition is strongly recommended for those with urinary problems and pelvic floor dysfunction.
Certain foods and fluids can actually stimulate the bladder and as such should be avoided when experiencing these symptoms. Some of the most popular stimulants are:
- Caffeinated beverages
- Carbonated beverages
- Citrus fruits and drinks
- Alcoholic beverages
- Anything containing artificial sweeteners (we’re looking at you, Splenda)
If the root of your pelvic floor dysfunction is difficulty with bowel movements, the first step is to switch to a high-fiber diet. Fiber is a nutrient that helps your body digest food and gives your stool the right consistency. As a result, it helps alleviate constipation and the chronic straining of trying to pass a bowel movement that goes along with it.
You can increase your fiber intake by eating:
- Legumes (beans and lentils)
- Whole grains
- Fiber supplements
Maintaining a healthy weight and/or weight loss may also be recommended. We mentioned it earlier – being overweight can increase the risk of developing pelvic floor dysfunction. Losing weight helps alleviate stress on your pelvic floor muscles, which can in turn resolve the symptoms associated with pelvic floor dysfunction.
2. Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy
Now, chances are, lifestyle changes will not magically resolve all of your signs and symptoms. They can make a huge difference, especially if you’re worried about developing pelvic floor dysfunction, but other interventions may be needed.
For years, experts have regarded physical therapy as an effective approach to addressing pelvic floor disorders. Pelvic floor physical therapists evaluate and treat potential causes of pelvic pain and dysfunction, like scar tissue, nerve irritation, and muscle tightness.
Pelvic floor physical therapy incorporates a variety of treatment approaches to retrain the pelvic floor muscles that control the bladder, bowel, and sexual function. One of the most common ways to treat pelvic floor dysfunction is through bladder training.
Yep, you read that right.
Through bladder training, you will create and follow a special bathroom schedule. With consistency and regularity, you can regain control over your bladder and bowel by slowly increasing the intervals between bathroom breaks.
Muscle retraining is another commonly-used pelvic floor dysfunction treatment. For some, learning to strengthen and fully relax pelvic floor muscles reduces the pain or discomfort associated with pelvic floor dysfunction. Kegel exercises have become well-known as a way to retrain pelvic floor muscles without using invasive techniques.
However, if your symptoms are related to organ prolapse, these types of exercises are unlikely to correct the problem.
Certain medications can alleviate symptoms related to pelvic floor dysfunction. There are all kinds of medicines available for incontinence and constipation alike.
Finding one that works for you is the key here – and know that they won’t work for everyone!
3. Surgical Treatment
Sometimes, conservative treatment isn’t enough. If you’re not seeing results, then surgery may be recommended.
Surgery for pelvic floor dysfunction is typically needed for people with prolapse or severe herniations. Just as there are many types of prolapse, there are just as many types of surgery (and then some) to repair these issues. To help you get back on your feet, you’ll likely need a round of pelvic floor physical therapy following surgery.
Your healthcare provider may also recommend surgery for those experiencing a complete loss of bowel and/or bladder control. It’s been proven to be a very effective treatment for urinary leakage that occurs with sneezing, coughing, laughing, and exercising.
For pelvic pain, incontinence, weakness, or other symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, turn to the pelvic floor therapy specialists at Myokinetix.
Our pelvic floor physical therapists in Essex County, New Jersey are passionate about comprehensive treatments to restore your confidence and wellness. We use a 3-tiered approach to alleviate pain, rebuild your strength, and redefine what it means to be healthy. Call 973-545-7417 for an initial consult at one of our convenient offices in East Hanover or Succasunna.