Your pelvic floor is a set of muscles that make up the base of the pelvis. It functions to control bowel and bladder, add stability to the spine, and support the organs (among many other functions). Both sexes have a pelvic floor, however they obviously look a little different between male and female. I focus only on Women’s Health, so for the purpose of this blog post – we will only focus on the female pelvic floor! It needs a lot of attention, however you could definitely be taking your self-care too far. So, lets delve into 5 things you may be doing that could be causing harm to your pelvic floor!
1. Using “Feminine Cleansing” Products
The vagina was designed to take care of itself without the assistance of perfumes, washes, or douches. The tissue can maintain it’s own pH levels, hydration, and bacterial levels – which is why some discharge from the vagina is totally normal! Large, copious amounts of discharge, colored discharge, or foul smelling discharge are signs of an issue going on – and are reasons to visit your doctor. And these symptoms can be brought on by using products that your vagina didn’t need. Water and mild soaps are fine, however strongly perfumed products can be irritating to the vaginal (internal and external tissues).
2. Using a Menstrual Pad for Urinary Incontinence
They’re MENSTRUAL pads for a reason, not incontinence pads! The vulva (or the external tissues of the vagina) can be irritated by pads, causing irritation, redness, and discomfort. If you’re experiencing incontinence, this is a reason to see a doctor – and definitely a pelvic floor physical therapist! Regardless of the number of children you’ve had, you should not leak with any motion. And strengthening/mobilizing the tissues of the pelvic floor and surrounding hips can definitely help to stop the leakage.
3. Tolerating Painful Sex
Pain during sex is not “normal.” One of the 5 functions of the pelvic floor is sexual appreciation, or the ability to participate in and enjoy sex. Studies have shown that the stronger the pelvic floor, the better the sex. Pain with sex can be caused by irritation of the vaginal tissues, dysfunction within the muscles, and hormonal changes. It’s a reason to talk to your doctor and seek out a pelvic floor physical therapist!
4. Not Drinking Enough Water
Water intake directly affects the function of the bladder and the bowels. Adequate hydration is required for normal bowel function, which helps eliminates wastes – but has also been implicated with pelvic pain. The Mayo Clinic recommends that women drink 11.5 cups of water/day. This recommendation changes with levels/intensity of exercise, health, pregnancy, and breast feeding. For more information on this, visit the Mayo Clinic website (https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/water/art-20044256).
5. “Hover Peeing” In a Public Restroom
I know…sometimes public restrooms are definitely gross; but squatting is not the answer! To allow the release of urine from the bladder, the pelvic floor has to be able to relax. In a 90 deg squatting position, the pelvic floor will be active (and attempting to hold urine). So, squatting and attempting to urinate will cause a confusing disconnect in the sphincter (or control) muscles of the pelvic floor. So, rather than squatting – use the toilet covers or make your own out of toilet paper. Save your squats for the gym!
One Final Note:
These suggestions are obviously not all encompassing. There are situations where one of these MAY be the right answer for you. If you have any questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out; either to myself or to a pelvic floor physical therapist in your area. You should never feel embarrassed about any questions you have regarding your vagina or pelvic floor – we all have one!
Dr Tristan Faile, PT, DPT, OCS