We recently sat down with physiotherapist (and friend) Melissa Dessaules to learn what improves and what impacts your pelvic floor health.
Melissa has extensive training in managing and treating pelvic floor issues. She’s adopted a proactive approach to improving pelvic health so that men and women can feel empowered as they weather the changes that come with aging, pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and an active lifestyle.
Keep reading for insight from Melissa on five surprising habits that could impact your pelvic health.
Managing stress is key to a healthy pelvic floor. When stressed, we tend to tense our muscles as a reflex to our " fight-or-flight response," prepping our body to react to a specific stressful situation. While stress is a normal reaction that happens to everyone, prolonged stress and muscle tension can lead to various issues, including headaches, aches and pains, fatigue, depression, anxiety, and – you guessed it – a troubled pelvic floor.
Clients are never surprised to hear stress causes muscle tension in the neck or jaw, but they’re often surprised to learn their pelvic floor symptoms, such as incontinence, hemorrhoids, pain, or bladder urgency, are associated with stress-related muscle tension.
Recognizing where you hold stress in the body and knowing that prolonged stress can affect the long-term health of your pelvic floor is often enough to help my clients change how they deal with their stress.
Other ways to manage stress on a day-to-day basis:
- Try guided meditation.
- Get regular exercise.
- Prioritize healthy eating.
- Try journaling.
- Focus on getting good sleep.
- Seek professional counseling services.
2. How you breathe.
Your diaphragm and pelvic floor work closely together, creating and regulating pressure in the body. When you inhale, your diaphragm moves downward, lengthening your abdominal wall and 2 pelvic floor. When you exhale, your diaphragm rises while your abdominal walls contract and your pelvic floor lifts.
The better your diaphragm moves, the better your pelvic floor moves and functions.
Paying attention to how you breathe and practicing mindful breathing techniques will encourage healthy movement, stretching, lengthening, and relaxation of your diaphragm and pelvic floor.
Here are some ways to tap into your breathe:
- Explore guided breathing techniques on YouTube or apps like Calm and Insight Timer.
- Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing.
- Take an in-person guided breathwork session.
3. Sucking in your tummy.
Similar to how your diaphragm and pelvic floor are connected, your abdomen and pelvic floor are closely related.
Notice what happens in your pelvic floor when you suck in your tummy vs. when you let it relax. Notice how when you flex your abdominal muscles, your pelvic floor tightens? Your pelvic floor responds automatically like a ‘reflexive clamp’ when you squeeze your tummy muscles, ensuring no pee/poop comes out when you flex.
However, prolonged tightness in your abdomen can lead to stomach gripping, pelvic floor fatigue, or a hypertonic pelvic floor. Symptoms include constant tension of your pelvic floor, urinary incontinence, urination issues, constipation, vaginal pressure/heaviness, and pain during sexual intercourse.
To relax your tummy muscles, I often tell clients to focus on letting their tummy muscles ” just be”.Focus on releasing the tension in your tummy, and your pelvic floor will eventually relax.
- Try to break the habit – consciously relax with various breathing techniques when you recognize you’re contracting your tummy.
- Swap tight or restrictive clothing for comfier form fitting solutions.
- Notice if it’s stress related (see #1).
- Incorporate core strengthening into your exercise routine. Holding your tummy in all the time isn’t the same as strengthening.
4. How you pee and poop.
Remember that the pelvic floor muscles are reflexive or automatic, so it’s expected that we don’t often think about them. For this reason, many people adopt habits, often at an early age, that negatively influence our pelvic floor function.
For example, some people learn to excessively strain when they pee or poop, which creates muscle tension and a lot of downward pressure on their pelvic floor. Others develop a habit of waiting too long or responding too quickly to any signal needing to go to the bathroom. Even how you sit on the toilet can impact your pelvic floor’s ability to relax.
The key is to relax your pelvic floor when toileting to avoid causing harmful muscle strain and problematic symptoms such as constipation, hemorrhoids, anal fissures, or pelvic organ prolapse.
- Read up on the proper ways to pee/poop – check out this blog post from Southern Pelvic Health on “How to Poop”.
- Take your time.
- Find your optimal toileting position – you should be seated comfortably with no need to strain.
- Don’t hold your breath when pushing.
- Place your hands on your abdomen and relax your belly forward – this is a helpful reminder to relax the neighbouring muscle groups.
- Remember to breathe.
Constipation is often a key source of symptoms like hemorrhoids, incontinence, prolapse, pelvic pain, and pelvic weakening. Constantly straining from passing bulky stools puts pressure on the bladder, rectal and vaginal walls and can lead to prolapse over time.
I always tell clients that the best thing they can do to avoid long-term issues with their pelvic health is to be proactive in managing constipation. A healthy balanced diet and adequate water consumption are critical to keeping things regular on the journey through your digestive tract.
In some cases, constipation may be caused by medication, pregnancy, aging, or underlying health issues. Be sure to consult your doctor if constipation symptoms persist longer than a few days.
How to manage constipation:
- Eat a healthy diet with lots of fiber or take fiber supplements.
- Drink plenty of water.
- Get plenty of exercise.
- Refer back to #4 on the proper ways to pee and poop.
- Consult your doctor to see if you need over the counter medication.
To learn more, check out The Pelvic Floor Project podcast episodes: –
- Episode 23 – Constipation is crappy with Tamarah Nerreter.
- Episode 25: Hemorrhoids and the pelvic floor with Lacey Forsyth.
About Melissa Dessaules:
Melissa Dessaulles is a registered physiotherapist with postgraduate training in managing and treating pelvic floor-related symptoms and perinatal health.
She’s the founder of Mommy Berries, a platform to educates and supports women throughout pregnancy, birth and recovery with a focus on proactive health care.
She’s also the host of The Pelvic Floor Project Podcast, aimed at providing evidence based information through conversation with experts in their field.
Melissa lives with her husband and two kids in Kelowna, BC, Canada. Her physiotherapy practice is located at KLWNA Health and Wellness.