Pelvic floor exercise isn’t really given the air time it deserves.
Maybe you first read about it in magazines as a teenager, in the context of enhanced sexual pleasure, though often we don’t really become familiar with the concept until everyone starts having babies.
But even then, are you really sure what it means?
Have you totally got to grips with doing it right?
“The pelvic floor is a layer of muscles that extends from your tailbone to your pubic bone [back to front].
"This layer forms a sling that’s responsible for supporting your pelvic organs [bladder, bowel and uterus], maintaining continence, and has a role in sexual pleasure,” explains physiotherapist Holly McKenzie.
“Often when people work on their core, they focus too much on their abdominal muscles. This imbalance can strain the pelvic floor and increase their chance of developing dysfunction.”
“It’s very important,” says McKenzie.
“Up to a third of women will experience a problem with their pelvic floor at some point in their lifetime.”
The most common problems, she says, are urinary incontinence — which can range from mild [leaking a little when you laugh or run, for instance] to severe — and pelvic organ collapse.
“The pelvic floor also has a role in sexual pleasure, stability of the pelvis and lower back, maintaining bowel continence, and assists in labour by helping the baby’s head turn,” McKenzie adds.
While the effects of pregnancy and childbirth are most commonly associated with pelvic floor dysfunction, it’s something that can affect anybody — chronic constipation, high-impact exercise, heavy lifting, being overweight, chronic cough and menopause can also be associated, while injuries and chronic health conditions affecting this region may also play a part.
“Regular pelvic floor exercises are essential for all women in the prevention and treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction,” McKenzie stresses.
Trainer Hugh Hanley advises that pregnant women do pelvic floor exercises (often known as ‘kegels’) daily.
However it’s a good idea for all women to get in the habit, as a preventative measure and for overall benefits to health, self-confidence and posture.
“Gradually tighten the muscles you use if you want to stop the flow of urine when going to the toilet,” explains Hanley.
“Try to do it without holding your breath, squeezing your buttocks together. Hold the squeeze for several seconds and then relax slowly.
“Now pull the muscles up tight and fast. Then relax. Then tighten them quickly again. Use clenching and opening your fist as a visual tool to help you imagine the movement.”
If you’re concerned about performing any exercises, McKenzie notes you can always ask a physio or specialist for advice.
And don’t worry if you think you’ve left it too late, and have already started experiencing signs of a weak pelvic floor — it’s never too late to start.
Exercises can make a big difference, even for women already blighted by stress incontinence.
Speak to your GP as a first port of call; there’s help out there.