The pelvic floor muscles (PFM) are superficial muscles that exist in the base of the pelvis. Like any other muscle or muscle group in the body, the PFM can be weak or strong. The difference between the pelvic floor and other muscles, however, is that it can be hard to gauge overall strength.
Changes in the function of these muscles can lead to symptoms that include pelvic pain, urinary incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse. Maintaining PFM strength can help support bladder and bowel function, in addition to sexual sensation. These muscles may also increase stability in the hips and pelvis, and aid with pumping blood and lymph from the pelvis to the heart. Although measuring the strength of these muscles can be difficult, it is necessary because it makes you more self-aware. You’ll know what you need to strengthen based on correct contraction.
Symptoms Of Weak Pelvic Floor
Failure to keep the pelvic floor muscles strong means that you cannot perform the essential functions in the previous paragraph. Weak pelvic floor muscles can lead to the following symptoms:
- A strong need to urinate and not always making it to the bathroom in time
- Accidentally leaking urine while exercising, sneezing, coughing, or laughing
- A feeling of heaviness or general discomfort in the vagina or rectum
- A need to urinate often (eight or more times a day and more than once during the night)
- General pain or discomfort in the pelvic area during sexual intercourse
Testing Pelvic Floor Strength
Not only do the PFMs need to maintain a sustained resting tone, but also an ability to contract quickly. Proper strength helps with continence, sexual function, and an ability to relax to allow for easy urination and bowel elimination. Testing PFM strength is not as easy as assessing regular bicep contraction, for example. Power, speed of contraction, endurance, and the ability to relax need evaluation when it comes fo PFM.
Take A Look
Start in a seated position with your back supported and knees propped up so that both your knees and hips are bent. Use a mirror to observe your vaginal and anal area. Contract your muscles as if you are trying to hold in your urine and you should notice that your muscles draw inwards and upwards. Ideally, they pull away from the mirror.
Lie down on your back and bend your knees. Use a pillow to support your head, or lie on your side with a pillow between your knees for comfort. With either hand, place four fingers over the perineum (area between the vaginal canal and rectum) and contract your pelvic floor as if to stop the floor of urine. This is similar to the above exercise. The area under your finger should lift and pull upwards if the pelvic muscles are strong. You should not feel additional pressure where the fingers are if you contract correctly.
Internal Vaginal Self-Assessment
Before the internal self-assessment, it’s important to clean your hands thoroughly with soap and water. Repeat the exact same steps as the above assessment, lying on your back or side, supporting your head or knees with a pillow. Insert your clean index finger (using lubricant if necessary) into the vaginal canal until the base of the middle knuckle. Same as above, contract your pelvic floor as if stopping the flow of urine. A strong pelvic floor contraction will have an upward lift, and you’ll feel some tension when you try to remove your finger from the vagina. Holding the lift for 10 seconds is a good indication of pelvic floor strength and endurance.
How To Strengthen The Pelvic Floor
If you think that your pelvic floor is weak or in need of strengthening, there are several exercises to improve strength. Some of the most notable exercises to enhance pelvic floor strength include kegels, adductor ball squeeze, and bridge with adductor ball squeeze. There are many video tutorials of these exercises online, so please look them up in order to do them properly.