What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that help you control when you open your bladder and bowels to go to the toilet. Lots of factors can increase the risk of weakened pelvic floor muscles, such as:
Performing pelvic floor exercises can be a good way to help protect and strengthen these muscles. And, they can help to improve the strength of your pelvic floor if you think you may be experiencing symptoms of pelvic floor weakness.
What are the signs of a weak pelvic floor?
If you have pelvic floor weakness, you might experience symptoms such as:
- leaking pee (urine) when laughing, coughing, or when lifting heavy items
- feeling the need to pee very urgently when you need to use the toilet
Sometimes, more severe pelvic floor weakness can cause pelvic organ prolapse. This is when the pelvic organs (your bladder, bowel, and womb) bulge and move into the vagina. This can happen when the pelvic floor muscles are too weak to hold them in their usual place. If you have pelvic organ prolapse, you may:
- have a dragging or heavy feeling in your pelvic area
- feel or see a bulge in your vagina
- have trouble fully emptying your bladder or bowel
If you have any of these symptoms, speak to your doctor.
How long does it take to strengthen your pelvic floor?
Regularly performing pelvic floor exercises can help to tighten your pelvic floor muscles. But, it’s important to be consistent, and practise regularly.
As with any exercise, it can take time and practice before you notice an improvement in muscle strength. So try not to give up if you don’t notice an improvement straight away. In the meantime, lifestyle changes like limiting caffeine can also help with some of the symptoms you may have.
It’s recommended that you continue with a pelvic floor exercise routine for at least three months. But if you can, include them in your daily routine for longer, to help keep your pelvic floor strong.
What are the best pelvic floor exercises?
The main exercise recommended to strengthen your pelvic floor are often called ‘kegels.’ You can practice them whether you’re standing, sitting, or lying down. Try following the steps below.
- Squeeze the muscles that you use when trying to stop yourself from passing pee (urine) and breaking wind. If you’re unsure, you might find it helpful to put two fingers inside your vagina, and practice squeezing around your fingers. This can help you to check you’re using the correct muscles.
- Don’t tighten your stomach, bottom, and thigh muscles at the same time – and avoid holding your breath.
- Hold this muscle squeeze for 10 seconds (you might need to build up to this at first) then relax for 5 seconds.
- After holding for 10 seconds, and when you feel able to, try doing 10 quick squeezes.
- Always take a rest between squeezes.
Practise this routine three times each day if you can, and try to make kegel exercises part of your daily routine. You could try and practise them while sitting at your desk, for example, or while in the car.
Pelvic floor apps are also available that can guide you through these exercises. They can also send helpful reminders to practise throughout the day.
What exercises should I avoid with a weak pelvic floor?
There’s some evidence to suggest that high impact activities, like running and jumping, might put extra strain on the pelvic floor. And, this could lead to pelvic floor weakness in some people.
If you take part in high impact sports, and you’re worried you’re experiencing pelvic floor weakness, visit your GP. They may refer you to a pelvic health physiotherapist. They can advise whether you should avoid certain exercises after assessing you. And, from learning more about your individual circumstances and history.
You may also be able to visit a physiotherapist through your health insurance, if you have it. Always check with your insurance provider beforehand to check what is covered under your policy.
Pelvic floor weakness can cause some unpleasant symptoms. But by performing regular strengthening exercises, over time, lots of people notice an improvement in their symptoms.