Riddle me this. What cradles our organs like a hammock and provides support for bowel and bladder control? Cues jeopardy music. Okay, okay, if you guessed the pelvic floor muscles, then you’re right. In addition to providing stellar support, it also helps out with sexual arousal and even achieving the infamous o-face. So in short, your pelvic floor is a big deal.
However, sometimes our pelvic floor doesn’t perform the way we want it to and this happens for a variety of reasons. Pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and more can loosen things up a bit. A loose pelvic floor can, in turn, lead to pain, bladder leaks (aka incontinence), and a bunch of other stuff we don’t want to get jiggy with. So what is a woman to do? Well, pelvic floor physical therapy might be a good option for you, so let’s explore what it’s all about.
What Is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy?
A lot of ladies don’t know this, but pelvic floor physical therapy is a real thing and there are a lot of different components that go into it. It’s typically part of a treatment plan that is prescribed or recommended by a primary care physician, sex therapist, or mental health therapist. The overall goal is to whip your pelvic floor back into shape by addressing the symptoms you’re experiencing. In most cases that means strengthening your pelvic floor. But, it can also mean stretching it out and getting it to relax for those of us who have pelvic floors that are too tight (i.e. hypertonic pelvic floors).
What To Expect
Ready to learn? If not, you better get ready. Your physical therapist is going to want you, the patient, to get educated about your specific problem. He or she may ask you to learn about the pelvic anatomy so you know what’s being worked on every step of the way. That might mean learning about pelvic floor prolapse, different types of bladder leaks, or even common causes of pelvic pain.
You Better Work It, Work It
Then comes the exercises. Pelvic floor exercises include contracting and relaxing the muscles in question in relation to the other muscles nearby. Breathing techniques and stretching helps out with this portion of the therapy. Also regularly used in pelvic floor physical therapy is low-voltage electrical stimulation to contract the muscles for you. Manual therapy, aka massages, can help get blood flowing and correct posture too. Lastly, vaginal dilators can help women learn how to relax their pelvic muscles. This is helpful for penetration during doctor appointments or even intimacy. The best way to learn is hands-on, after all, even if you have to work up to it.
What Can Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Help With?
Pelvic floor physical therapy treats all kinds of issues, but most of them are grouped together under three big umbrellas. Primarily, though, it can help with pelvic dysfunction, which is the inability to tighten or relax pelvic floor muscles. Problems from pelvic dysfunction include vaginismus, erectile dysfunction (yes, guys might need it, too), pelvic inflammatory disease, and dyspareunia.
Whip It Back Into Shape Post Pregnancy or After Surgery
Pre- and postpartum health are the most common reasons women seek out pelvic floor physical therapy. Pregnancy and birth can do a number on your body, after all. A lot of women experience bladder leaks during pregnancy, for example. Postpartum women often benefit from using pads for bladder leaks as well as from pelvic floor physical therapy. French women in particular are big on pelvic floor physical therapy, or “perineal re-education,” after birth. Pelvic floor physical therapy is also useful for post-surgery patients after having a hysterectomy, appendectomy, or any other procedure in that region.
Got Bladder Leaks? Get Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy
Second, leaks and drips from the bladder or bowel is another major reason women seek out this kind of physical therapy. Got leaks? Pelvic floor physical therapy has got some solutions (and bladder leak products can provide much needed back up in the interim). Pelvic floor physical therapy can help with bowel and bladder disorders, from stress incontinence to irritable bowel syndrome.
Alleviating Pelvic Floor Pain
Lastly, pelvic floor physical therapy can help with many kinds of pelvic pain and the symptoms that go with it. For instance, pelvic floor physical therapy helps with pain from endometriosis and other issues. It even helps with pelvic pain that is the result of skin conditions like lichen planus. Pelvic floor PT can also treat sexual dysfunctions that are related to pelvic floor muscle dysfunction. Examples include pain from intercourse or from having an orgasm.
Where to Get Pelvic Floor PT
Pelvic floor therapy can’t be performed by just anybody. Only specialized physical therapists are licensed to give this type of treatment. That said, there are plenty of pelvic floor physical therapists to choose from. Short of searching online, ask your doctor where to find a pelvic floor physical therapist that’s right for you. They’ll likely have opinions on who’s the best one around and can take your insurance. Asking for help is always a good option.
What to Expect With Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy
It’s always nice to know what’s coming. Plus, knowing what to expect can help make sure you’ll get the most out of your pelvic floor physical therapy. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Be Ready To Put In The Effort
Most importantly, go into pelvic floor PT with the attitude to make a real change. Hygiene and eating habits might have to change as well, either temporarily or permanently. We know this can be difficult, all lifestyle changes are, but the trick is sticking to the plan. Whatever effort you put in to these exercises, you’ll get back, so think of it like karma!
And Something Else You Should Know
Okay ladies, brace yourselves for this one. If you’re going to have pelvic floor PT then you have to be open to the idea of vaginal or rectal exams from the physical therapist. I know it sounds like a bit much. Keep in mind that these physical therapists are specially licensed and have conversations all day long with other women just like you.
The Unlikely Hero
For those who have had to go from doctor to doctor about their pelvic pain or bladder leaks, a pelvic floor physical therapist just be the key to getting out of that loop. Pelvic floor PT can be life changing if you’re ready to put all of the necessary effort in.
If bladder leaks have headed to the pelvic floor physical therapist, you may need some extra protection while you strengthen your muscles. Lily Bird has you covered with pads and underwear for leaky laughs and dribble dilemmas, delivered right to your door. Start your free trial today.
Have you tried pelvic floor physical PT? What was your experience with it? Tell us about it in the comments.
By Jessica Thomas, MPH