When it comes to personal wellness, women can often feel like there's simply too much to keep track of. And while there are plenty of obvious areas of our physical health that deserve our attention, there's one aspect that can sometimes get shifted to the backburner: Your pelvic floor.
According to Celia Egan, MD, NCMP, DABOM, Internal Medicine and Obesity Physician and NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner at true. Women's Health, all women should be thinking about their pelvic floor, no matter their age.
"Without a doubt, our pelvic floors are one of the most overlooked parts of a woman's body," Dr. Egan said. "Our pelvic floor consists of the muscle, ligaments and tissues that make up the bottom of the pelvis with the goal of holding up and in our bladder, rectum and gynecological organs, as well as providing stability when we move. That's a lot to ask of a small part of our body!"
Even though it's so important, Dr. Egan notes many women and even their medical providers fail to pay the pelvic floor its due attention. The benefits of a strong pelvic floor abound, including helping prevent injuries and falls, incontinence and painful intercourse. And as we journey through life, there are a variety of actions we could take to keep the pelvic floor in check.
"When we're younger, the focus should be keeping the pelvic floor muscles stretched and flexible. Many young ladies have aggressive sports agendas and need to remember to stretch daily, especially around heavy exercise," said Dr. Egan, adding that keeping those muscles strong before, during and after pregnancy is also imperative to prevent urinary and fecal leakage, as well as providing a strong base for another baby if desired.
"As our bodies enter menopause and our ovaries stop producing estrogen, which helps maintain proper pelvic floor function, supporting our pelvic floor with the right hormone replacement therapy, as well as keeping up with our stretching and strengthening programs from our younger years, is vital to setting up a strong base for years to come," Dr. Egan explained.
But how do you know if your pelvic floor needs strengthening? According to Dr. Egan, there multiple tell-tale signs: Urinary or fecal leakage when coughing, laughing or during heavy exercise; pelvic pain during sex or exercise; and overall, less strength when doing physical activity such as hiking or heavy lifting.
Thankfully, pelvic floor therapy—led by a specially trained professional—is becoming more popular and can help.
"Your therapist will usually start with a conversation about your concerns and an external exam," Dr. Egan explained. "There are many ways to get started with pelvic floor therapy that do not include an internal exam, which for some women can be unwanted and frightening."
Be open with your provider and effectively communicate your needs to ensure the care you receive is exactly the care you want and need. And don't forget: The little things matter.
"We all can benefit from basic daily poses such as Child's Pose and Yogi Squat," Dr. Egan said. "Start carving out five minutes in the morning or before bed to practice some of these exercises and seek out extra help if needed."
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor of West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Oct/Nov '22 issue of West Michigan Woman.