When to Relax Pelvic Floor Muscles (to Avoid Pelvic Pain)

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.

Muscle fibres

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.

Muscle spasm

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)
  • Incontinence
  • Constipation
  • 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.

Pelvic Pain and Pelvic Relaxation Therapy for Women

Always contract and then relax your pelvic floor muscles with: Cough

  • 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 walking
  • 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

Key Points

  • 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.

Further Reading

» When to Contract Your Pelvic Floor During Exercise

» Pelvic Floor Relaxation Exercises to Relieve 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.

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We Welcome Your Comments


  1. Hi Michelle!
    Would this mean that “leave in” pelvic floor exercise balls (such as the Pelvi Mediballs/yoni stones etc) are not beneficial? And are these different to other weighted ball exercises?

    • Author: Michelle Kenway Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist says

      Hi Clair
      Good question! This means that the way these are typically suggested for use is completely inappropriate (i.e. hold in and leave). If they are used, it should be with active pelvic floor exercises for a short session then immediately removed. It’s great that you understood this potential effect. Cheers

  2. Hi Michelle,

    Would you clarify for me? If I am not to maintain a constant pelvic floor or lower abdominal brace during an entire workout such as with light weight resistance training (such as with your strength training DVD), do I hold the brace for the entire exercise set and then release when that particular exercise set is finished before moving on to the next set or exercise? Or do I relax between repetitions? So if a do a bridge, do I relax when my bum comes down before bracing and doing another lift (contracting again) or do I keep it braced until all of my repetitions are done? I want to be sure I am doing things properly to protect my pelvic floor.

    Thank you for any advice.

    • Michelle Kenway Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist says

      Hi Jane
      This is a tricky question isn’t it! I think that thinking has changed a little in regards to this issue. Most women can’t maintain a pelvic floor contraction for an entire workout and this is not how the pelvic fooor muscles should be activated either. I actually don’t think you need to brace your pelvic floor doing a typical bridge lifting your buttocks off the ground. This exercise is very safe for the pelvic floor and does not load it. I would confine a pelvic floor brace to any heavy exercise that you may perform such as a heavy squat, then stop relax your pelvic floor and repeat again with pelvic floor contracted again. Your pelvic floor should be strong enough to withstand a light workout and there’s no need to constantly brace throughout. Do maintain your regular pelvic floor exercises throughout the day. Hope this clears your confusion Jane, cheers Michelle

  3. Ì habe a habit of constantly bracing my pelvic floor to the point of spasms. How do I stop that? It seems to be subconscious. It’s driving me mad.

    • Michelle Kenway Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist says

      Hi Michelle
      This is a relatively common problem so take some heart in knowing that you’re not entirely alone. It really is habitual and the pattern can be unlearned but takes practice. I have a free video online that teaches pelvic Floor relaxationand there is also an excellent Pelvic Floor Relaxation CD for Womenpelvic Floor relaxation training cd by Professor Trish Neumann designed for daily practice. Michelle you need to be mindful of the fact that this takes time to unlearn so you’ll need to commit to regular daily practice and start to note the times when you do actively tense this is the first step, perhaps it’s brought on by feeling rushed, anxious or just a habit but start to notice. All the best, Michelle