We all know how important it is to get regular exercise to keep our muscles strong and supple yet there is a vital group of muscles that almost always gets neglected – the pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor is a sling shaped group of muscles that hold your pelvic organs (uterus, vagina, bowel and bladder) in place and gives you control when you urinate. As you grow older and/or have children your pelvic floor muscles can weaken and result in a prolapse.
What is a prolapse?
A prolapse is when your weakened pelvic floor slackens and allows your bladder, bowel or uterus to descend from its usual position. Prolapse is a very common problem for women, especially those who have birthed naturally. Some prolapses will require surgery and this can actually increase your risk of repeat prolapse. As such gynaecologists will never recommend surgery unless it is absolutely necessary and very rarely in pre-menopausal women.
How to manage prolapse
Many women have mild prolapse with no symptoms, but untreated prolapse can deteriorate over time. Corrective surgery can help but it will require a commitment to following medical advice for pre- and post-surgery exercises for a speedy recovery.
Here are 8 steps to help manage prolapse:
1 – Hormones
The pelvic floor can be affected by a declining supply of oestrogen and collagen – unavoidable with menopause and general ageing – however like any muscle it can be strengthened with the proper exercises (see below). Hormone supplements may help reduce some of the symptoms of prolapse but HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy) isn’t known to reverse prolapse on its own.
2 – Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy
Childbirth is a leading cause of prolapse so if you’ve suffered pelvic floor damage you may benefit from pelvic floor physiotherapy, which is specifically aimed at strengthening your pelvic muscles.
3 – Learn to poo
Straining with constipation or through poor technique stretches and weakens the pelvic floor. This can have a snowball effect as your weakened muscles have to work and strain even harder to empty your bowels in the future.
The shape of conventional toilets and the natural position actually causes us to strain – or in other words, we’ve been using toilets wrong all along. It’s not too late to retrain yourself to use the recommended technique of brace and bulge – or you can use a stool to help elevate your knees above your hips. Whatever you choose to do just ensure you take your time. Don’t hold on if you need to go but also don’t force yourself to go quickly as this causes straining.
4 – Diet
A huge part of healthy bowel and bladder movements is diet. A high fibre diet combined with drinking plenty of fluids will help keep your stools at the optimum consistency for a clear, strain-free and total evacuation.
5 – Weight
A balanced diet will not only help you empty your bowels and bladder with good control but it will also help manage your weight. Obesity is another cause of prolapse, especially if you have excess abdominal fat.
Visceral fat is fat that is stored in the abdomen and collects around important organs like the liver, pancreas and intestines. This fat puts pressure on your pelvic floor as you walk around or sit upright. Overworked muscles are more susceptible to strain and injury.
6 – Respiratory health
As strange as it may sound, good respiratory health is really important for keeping the pelvic floor strong. Coughs force the pelvic floor downwards which stretches and weakens the muscles and ligaments. If you have a persistent cough you should get it checked out anyway but definitely do so to avoid further damage.
Smokers should consider quitting or cutting down to reduce the chances of developing a cough. Allergy, asthmas and bronchitis suffers should speak to their physician to ensure they are on the right medication.
7 – The right exercise
Heavy-lifting and incorrect or prolonged exercise (such as some Pilates moves, running, jumping or weight-training) can put a strain on your pelvic floor. It’s important to do exercise to keep fit but not at the expense of vital muscles. Cycling and swimming are good low impact exercises to help with or avoid prolapse.
8 – Strengthen your floor
Doing regular pelvic floor exercises will improve their strength and flexibility. Not only are they good for recovery they are excellent as a preventative measure, especially before and during pregnancy.
The exercises are pretty simple and can be done at any time or place. Here’s how you do them.
Make sure you are sitting comfortably and squeeze the muscles 10 to 15 times in a row without holding your breath or tightening your stomach, thigh or bum muscles. Don’t overdo it; a quick contraction will do to start. Over time you can add more squeezes (ensuring you always rest between sets) and hold each squeeze for a second or two.
You’ll notice an improvement after a month or so which should improve any incontinence issues you’ve had and could benefit your sex life too through increased sensitivity.
The two most important things to remember about pelvic floor exercises are to start doing them and to keep doing them!
Still have questions about prolapse?
Hopefully this information will help you manage your prolapse or avoid developing one. If you have any questions or are concerned you may be suffering from prolapse please get in touch. We’re happy to help. We have helped many women recover from and manage their prolapse, and you could be one of them.
Just pick up the phone and call us on (02) 4959 3883 to schedule your appointment.