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What Exactly Is a Pelvic Floor and Why Do I Need to Strengthen It?

Marina Demeshko

If you’re not familiar with the pelvic floor, it’s important to get acquainted. This area of the body is instrumental in daily function of key organs like the bladder and bowel, and most notably the uterus, making it especially important for women and people with vaginas.

According to data pulled from WhatToExpect.com, pelvic floor muscles are able to stretch to about three times the normal length during vaginal birth, which can result in the weakening of pelvic floor muscles, also known as pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD). Roughly half of pregnant and postpartum women will suffer from PFD, with research showing that more than 50% of ob-gyns fail to address symptoms of postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction during prenatal care.

Pelvic floor issues have been spotlighted recently by Brittany Mahomes, wife of Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who shared that she suffered a fractured back. In an Instagram story, the mother of two cautioned women to “take care of your pelvic floor.”

“Pelvic floor issues are commonly associated with childbearing,” says physical therapist Laura Haynes Lima, DPT, a women’s health rehabilitation clinical specialist at Orlando Health Advanced Rehabilitation Institute. “Pregnancy and childbirth itself can cause injury or trauma to the structures of the pelvic floor, leading to problems related to urinary, bowel, and sexual function. Pelvic floor dysfunction can also be a result of underlying medical conditions, other orthopedic injuries, lifestyle factors, aging, and genetics.”

Ahead, everything you need to know about the pelvic floor, including PFD symptoms and how to strengthen your muscles.

What is the pelvic floor?

The pelvic floor strength is important for all bodies. “The pelvic floor is a group of muscles and ligaments located within the bowl of the pelvis that serve to support the bladder, bowel, and uterus (in women),” says Dr. Lima. “They also play an important role in the maintenance of bowel and bladder control, normal sexual function, and stability of the hips and spine.”

What are symptoms of pelvic floor issues?

There will be signs if you’re suffering from pelvic floor issues and dysfunction. “Many symptoms can arise due to issues related to the pelvic floor. Urinary problems (urgency, frequency, leakage), bowel dysfunction (constipation, incomplete bowel emptying, leakage), and sexual dysfunction (painful intercourse) are the most common complaints,” says Dr. Lima. “Due to the muscles’ supportive nature, when the pelvic floor is not functioning optimally, patients may also complain of low back or hip pain or feelings of pressure in the pelvic region.”

If you suffer from these symptoms, seek medical advice immediately. “A comprehensive assessment by a pelvic physical or occupational therapist is the best way to determine how to safely and effectively retrain your muscles for optimal function,” she says.

How does a fractured back relate to the pelvic floor?

Mahomes’s fractured back is a result of muscle support loss. “The pelvic floor plays a vital role in the support of our core. In reality, our core is three-dimensional and is made up of the muscles of the spine, abdominals, hips, diaphragm (our primary breathing muscle), and pelvic floor,” says Dr. Lima. “These muscles all need to work together to provide stability to the spine, pelvis and organ systems. When the pelvic floor muscles are compromised, it can lead to injuries in other areas due to lack of adequate support.”

How can I strengthen my pelvic floor?

Dr. Lima recommends a well-rounded approach to strengthening your pelvic floor. You might be tempted to concentrate on one area, but building strength in your lower body is important overall. “Kegels (repetitively squeezing and relaxing the muscles of the pelvic floor) are commonly recommended for increasing strength; however, due to the relationship of the pelvic floor to the other structures in our trunk that provide support to the body, it is also important to strengthen the muscles of the abdominals, back, and hips.”

Kegels can be done in quick pulses or long contractions to strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor, which support the bladder and vagina, explains Hilda Hutcherson, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University. One easy way to identify and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles? Go pee!

When you sit on the toilet, release a small amount of urine before stopping the flow. Repeat the process. Doing this contracts your muscles and allows you to feel where they are. "The muscles that you use to stop the flow of urine are the muscles you want to squeeze when you don’t have a full bladder,” Hutcherson says.

For our full guide on Kegel exercises, click below:

Learn how to do Kegel exercises and strengthen your pelvic floor with 10 expert tips.

Ariana Yaptangco is the senior beauty editor at Glamour. Follow her @arianayap.


Originally Appeared on Glamour