Are you confused about when to contract and when to relax pelvic floor muscles?
Many women make the mistake of constant pelvic floor bracing (contracting) without knowing the importance of relaxing their pelvic floor muscles.
Constantly bracing your pelvic floor muscles can cause serious and debilitating pelvic floor problems.
Read on now to learn:
- How your pelvic floor should contract and relax
- Problems caused by constant pelvic floor bracing
- When to actively contract and when to relax your pelvic floor
- When to avoid contracting your pelvic floor muscles
How Your Pelvic Floor Should Contract and Relax
Your pelvic floor muscles should contract and relax just like the other muscles in your body that are under your voluntary control.
The pelvic floor muscles are made up of thousands of tiny muscle cells (shown right). When your pelvic floor muscles contract the muscle fibres shorten creating tension (tightness) in your pelvic floor.
Muscles then need to relax and return to their normal resting length.
When your muscles relax and rest, they recover and prepare to contract again.
Pelvic floor muscles can become unable to relax when constantly contracted causing worsening pelvic floor problems.
Problems Caused by Constant Pelvic Floor Bracing
Relaxing your pelvic floor muscles allows them to rest, recover and prepare to contract again.
Over bracing pelvic floor muscles can cause a number of problems.
Short-term pelvic floor problems include:
- Pelvic muscle spasm (inability to relax)
- Muscle weakness
- Inability of muscles to contract
- Shortening of pelvic floor tissues causing loss of flexibility
- Pelvic pain
Long term problems include:
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Dyspareunia (pain with intercourse)
- Pelvic organ prolapse
When to Relax Pelvic Floor Muscles
While it may seem counterintuitive, having tight pelvic floor muscles doesn’t improve pelvic floor problems – this makes them worse.
When your pelvic floor muscles are too tight they can’t contract to work as they should. This has a detrimental effect on bladder and/or bowel control and your ability to support your pelvic organs and prevent prolapse worsening.
Avoid the mistake of bracing your pelvic floor muscles constantly.When to Relax Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
Your pelvic floor muscles should contract automatically. Unfortunately many women lose the ability to actively contract their pelvic floor muscles after vaginal delivery. This sometimes means relearning to contract the pelvic floor muscles and practicing using them when it’s appropriate.
Always contract and then relax your pelvic floor muscles with:
- Pelvic floor exercises or Kegels
- Sneeze (‘The Knack’)
- Cough (‘The Knack’)
- Blowing your nose
- Heavy lifting
- A strong urge to empty your bowel or bladder that you need to defer
- A strong urge to pass gas (wind)
Once you’ve contracted your pelvic floor muscles, you need to relax them completely. If you’re unsure how to relax your pelvic floor muscles this pelvic floor relaxation video shows you how.
When to Avoid Contracting Your Pelvic Floor Muscles
Many women habitually contract their pelvic floor muscles and keep them contracted contributing to long-term pelvic floor problems.
Avoid keeping your pelvic floor muscles constantly contracted:
- Walking or running
- During Yoga or Pilates classes
- When using cardio workout equipment
- Throughout your weights training session
- With pelvic pain e.g. after pelvic surgery, bladder infection or Vulvodynia (genital pain)
- If you’re feeling anxious
- Your pelvic floor muscles are designed to contract and relax
- Sometimes the focus on strengthening makes us forget the need to relax our pelvic floor muscles
- Avoid prolonged pelvic floor muscle bracing
- Relax your pelvic floor muscles and allow them to recover after contracting them
- Always avoid contracting your pelvic floor muscles throughout your entire workout or with pelvic pain.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Michelle Kenway
Michelle Kenway is an Australian Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist. Michelle lectures to health professionals and promotes community health through her writing, radio segments, online exercise videos and community presentations. She holds dual post graduate physiotherapy qualifications in women’s health and exercise.