How Does the Pelvic Floor Work?

The group of muscles that make up the pelvic floor work in the same way as any other muscle in the body. Relaxing and contracting to move the surrounding ligaments, bones and organs. The only voluntary function of the pelvic floor muscle is the same contraction you do for your pelvic floor exercises; an inward lift and squeeze around your vagina, rectum and urethra.

But what do the pelvic floor muscles do when they contract and relax?

  • Healthy urination and bowel movements - A strong pelvic floor is essential to have voluntary movement of both the sphincter and urethra. They must coordinate to have a full bowel movement. Hence the weakening of these muscles often results in incontinence or conversely, constipation.
  • Aids sexual function - Alongside a variety of psychological and biological issues, the pelvic floor muscles are essential in satisfactory erectile function and ejaculation in men. In women, the squeezing of the pelvic floor muscles is responsible for sexual sensation and arousal.
  • Pregnancy and childbirth - In women our pelvic floor muscles provide support for the baby during pregnancy and assist in childbirth - guiding the baby's head down the birth canal. If you have weak pelvic muscles during pregnancy, you become more vulnerable to conditions such as incontinence and pelvic organ prolapses.
  • Posture and support - Alongside the core muscles of the abdomen and back, the pelvic floor muscles stabilise and support the spine.
  • Support pelvic organs - The pelvic floor muscles are central to supporting your pelvic organs. If they are to weaken, you are at risk of your pelvic organs dropping from their natural position. Prolapsing (bulging) into the vagina or rectum, and eventually protruding out of the vagina or anus.


Sources

Bo, K. Lilleas, F. Talseth, T. Hedland, H. (2001). Neurourology and Urodynamics. Dynamic MRI of the pelvic floor muscles in an upright sitting position. [online] 20(2), p167–174. [viewed 16/04/18]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11170191

Cohen, D. Goldstein, I. Gonzalez, J. (2016). Sexual Medicine Reviews. The Role of Pelvic Floor Muscles in Male Sexual Dysfunction and Pelvic Pain. [online] 4, p 53-62. [viewed 03/04/2018]. Available from: http://www.smr.jsexmed.org/article/S2050-0521(15)00002-5/pdf

Mittal, R. K. Raizada, V. (2008). Gastroenterology Clinics of North America. Pelvic Floor Anatomy and Applied Physiology. [online] 37(3), p 493-509. [viewed 03/04/2018]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2617789/#

National Childbirth Trust. (2014). Pelvic floor exercises how-to guide: Pregnancy & beyond. [online] National Childbirth Trust, 2014. [viewed 03/04/2018]. Available from: https://www.nct.org.uk/pregnancy/pelvic-floor-exercises-during-and-after-pregnancy

Price, N. Dawood, R. Jackson, S. R. (2010). Maturitas. Pelvic floor exercise for urinary incontinence: A systematic literature review. [online] 67(4), p309-315. [viewed 16/04/18]. Available from: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/bd40/19fc898987cfb343c6652205837f92029039.pdf

Richardson, C. A. Sapsford, R. R. Stanton, W. R. (2006). Australian Journal of Physiotherapy. Sitting posture affects pelvic floor muscle activity in parous women: An observational study. [online] 52(3), p 219-222. [viewed 03/04/2018]. Available from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0004951406700319?via%3Dihub

UChicago Medicine. (2018). Frequently Asked Questions About Pelvic Floor Disorders [online] UChicago Medicine, 2018 [viewed 03/04/2018]. Available from: http://www.uchospitals.edu/specialties/pelvic/faq/pelvic-floor-disorders.html