They’re a part of your feet, your shoulder blades, your mouth, and even your face — muscles are all throughout your body, many of which you probably never think about. And yet, they all work together behind the scenes to help you move and function in everyday life.
Another muscle group that might not be on your radar — but is incredibly important in day-to-day activities — is your pelvic floor muscles. Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles and tissues that take the shape of a sling or hammock across the pelvis. It holds important organs in place, like your bladder and bowel. For women, this also includes the uterus.
Unfortunately, this unsung hero of a muscle group can become injured or weak, a condition that affects many women and men. This can cause discomfort, frustration, and even embarrassment.
Though pelvic floor disorders are common, you don’t have to live with the discomfort that accompanies them. Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy
can help you manage symptoms and reduce discomfort.
At the Department of Physical Therapy, Rehabilitation, and Sports Medicine at Chester County Hospital
, our physical therapists create a treatment plan that works for you and your needs. Theresa Feeney, DPT has been a part of the Chester County Hospital team of physical therapists for 12 years and specializes in pelvic floor physical therapy.
Pelvic floor therapy
uses a variety of techniques, ranging from pelvic floor exercises to manual therapy to low-voltage electrical stimulation. There’s a broad spectrum of treatment options, allowing physical therapists like Dr. Feeney to take the approach that works best for each patient.
Here is what pelvic floor disorders can feel like — and how physical therapy can help you get your life back.
What Causes Pelvic Floor Impairments?
Many of your muscles can become weak or injured overtime. The same thing can happen to your pelvic floor muscles.
Reasons for pelvic floor disorders include but are not limited to:
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Radiation treatment
- Digestive and bladder issues
Dr. Feeney shares, "Anyone with pelvic health problems could benefit from pelvic floor physical therapy." Many people may not even realize that their symptoms are related to their pelvic health.
Symptoms of a pelvic floor disorder include but are not limited to:
- Pain or discomfort in the pelvis, hip, abdomen, thigh, or lower back
- Difficulty urinating or emptying the bladder completely
- Frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Leaking urine or stool when you laugh, cough, or exercise
- Feeling a frequent or urgent need to urinate
- Pain while urinating
- Difficulty controlling gas
- Pain during intercourse
For women, symptoms can also include:
- Feeling aching, fullness, heaviness, or pulling in the vagina — often getting worse by the end of the day or during a bowel movement
- Seeing or feeling a "bulge" coming out of the vagina
How Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Can Help Ease Discomfort
Whether it’s always searching for the closest bathroom or canceling plans, pelvic floor impairments can disrupt your daily life. Fortunately, they don’t have to.
At Chester County Hospital, physical therapists design therapy to fit a person’s needs. "Pelvic floor physical therapy is not cookie cutter. We individualize care for each person based on what impairments you have and what signs and symptoms we’re finding during the initial evaluation and ongoing treatment," according to Dr. Feeney.
One common misconception about pelvic floor physical therapy is what it entails. “"eople come in thinking it’s all Kegel exercises," says Dr. Feeney. "It actually involves more — much more."
Pelvic floor physical therapy can involve one or more of the following components:
- Exercises: You’ll be taught to contract and relax your muscles correctly, including how timing and breathing impacts the effectiveness of these exercises. Pelvic floor exercises are designed to stretch and strengthen muscles as well as improve flexibility.
- Manual Therapy: Your physical therapist will use hands-on massage, myofascial release or stretching in order to improve blood circulation, mobility, and posture.
- Biofeedback Unit: Using biofeedback, you can “see” how your pelvic floor muscles work by identifying which of your muscles are contracting and which ones are at rest.
- Dilators: These tube-shaped devices can help you understand how to relax your pelvic muscles, allowing for easier penetration.
- Electrical Stimulation: Using a low-voltage electrical current, you can learn how to coordinate your muscle contractions. Small amounts of electrical stimulation (often described as tightening or lifting, but not painful) are sent to the nerves and muscles of the pelvic floor, making them tighten or contract, or strengthening them.
- Education: By learning about your pelvic floor anatomy and how it works, you can understand how your habits (such as water intake, posture, and hygiene) can impact your symptoms.
The key to any physical therapy is consistency. Most patients start to see improvement in symptoms within about a month, but it can take longer to notice a major change.
The best way to ease symptoms? Commit to physical therapy and any prescribed at-home exercises or lifestyle changes. As Dr. Feeney says, “You always want to set yourself up for success, and this can be done by coming to your physical therapy sessions and committing to your home exercise program.”
A Long-Term Solution to Your Pelvic Floor Signs and Symptoms
If you have a pelvic floor disorder, you know the frustration of the symptoms. Fortunately, pelvic floor physical therapy doesn’t just ease symptoms temporarily — it helps keep them from disrupting your life long-term.
"People don’t always realize that if they’re experiencing pelvic floor problems, they don’t need to live like that," explains Dr. Feeney.
By understanding how your muscles work and strengthening and stretching those muscles, you can experience much-needed relief. While pelvic floor therapy can be a part of a treatment plan, which can include medication or surgery, it can also ease symptoms on its own. That means you’ll be less likely to experience unwanted side effects from either medication or surgery.
Pelvic floor muscles may be hidden inside your body, but the symptoms of a pelvic floor disorder are hard to ignore. With some time and dedication — and the expertise of Chester County Hospital physical therapists — you can get back to your life faster.
Do you have questions about how pelvic floor physical therapy can ease your symptoms? Call 610-738-2480 to make an appointment with a physical therapist in the Chester County Hospital Physical Therapy, Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine Department or find a location close to you.