Each May we spend a Sunday celebrating mothers, taking time to appreciate the women who brought us into this world. On Mother’s Day, moms everywhere are showered with gifts or given a break because we recognize that having children can sometimes be a pain in the neck.
It can also be a pain in the pelvis. It’s estimated that a third of women experience pelvic pain in their lifetime. Pelvic problems can occur at any age, but are more common after pregnancy. Many women think pelvic pain is a normal part of pregnancy, but it’s often caused or worsened by tight or weak pelvic floor muscles.
“Most women don’t even know they have pelvic floor muscles or have a poor understanding of what they do. The inability to contract or relax these muscles can lead to a myriad of difficulties, including pelvic pain,” explains Libby Trausch, D.P.T., a physical therapist specializing in pelvic health at Des Moines University Clinic.
Pelvic issues often go undiagnosed. Women are too afraid to discuss it with their doctor, choosing to sacrifice comfort to avoid embarrassment. When women do disclose the problem, physicians sometimes fail to recognize that pelvic floor muscles can be the cause of widespread pain or only do so after expensive exploratory surgery.
“Women who have had traumatic deliveries, suffer from incontinence, have vaginal or rectal pain, or have muscle relaxation problems in their pelvic floor can benefit from physical therapy,” advises Trausch. “You don’t have to live with pain. It’s better to learn exercises and get it under control.”
Trausch recommends deep breathing, general relaxation exercises focused on relaxing the lower belly and hip stretches to relax the pelvic floor muscles and ease pain. Once the pain is under control, if appropriate, the muscles can be strengthened through Kegels. Named for the gynecologist who invented them, Kegel exercises consist of repeatedly contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. A proper Kegel is performed by squeezing and lifting the muscles up into the body as if to stop the flow of urine, and then fully releasing.
“Kegels are a great way to tone the pelvic floor,” says Trausch. “Start with trying to hold for five seconds and then relaxing for five seconds. Work up to 10 seconds of holding and relaxing, up to 30 times a day.”
Everyone, especially new mothers, can experience pelvic pain. No matter your gender or age, it’s critical to tell someone about the problem and stop living with pain.