What is pelvic floor dysfunction and how can physical therapy help?

Consider this: Other than our feet, which support us in standing and walking during the day, the pelvic floor is the next most complex system in the human body that also runs parallel to the floor. The pelvic floor includes anything within the pelvic girdle, including the bones, ligaments, and muscles of your pelvis and lower half of your abdomen. It really is the “floor,” or foundation, of the rest of the trunk, and just like the foundation of a house, you really don’t want anything going wrong with it.

Symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction

Problems with the very “foundation” of our bodies, the pelvic floor, may cause many of the same symptoms that you may have answered questions about in our pelvic dysfunction quiz.  Symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction–those dreaded “cracks in the foundation”–can include any of the following:

  • Pain anywhere in the pelvic area (think below your belly button and between your hip bones–this can also include pain in your low back, lower abdominal area, hips, and/or groin)
  • Dysuria (pain or discomfort with emptying your bladder)
  • Incontinence (accidental leakage of urine, flatulence, or solid stool)
  • Nocturia (having to get up and go to the bathroom multiple times per night, which disrupts your sleep)
  • Difficulty emptying your bladder or bowels completely
  • Pain or discomfort with sexual activity
  • A sensation of your pelvic organs or bottom “dropping down” or “falling out”
  • Constipation

In addition to any of these symptoms, many people have experienced trauma to parts of the pelvic floor, including hard falls onto the tailbone, C-sections or other abdominal or pelvic surgeries, trauma to the area during childbirth, or even sexual trauma. Sometimes, there is not a known medical cause for pelvic pain, which can be frustrating for many patients. However, the good news is that physical therapists specialize in improving human function, and our team of dedicated pelvic floor therapists here at DMU specialize even further in assessing and evaluating potential sources of pelvic floor dysfunction.

Physical therapy for pelvic health

Like an actual crack in the foundation of a house, pelvic floor dysfunction or pelvic floor trauma can be treated successfully, with some work. Our pelvic floor physical therapists work one-on-one with each patient individually to determine the best and most effective treatment, because each patient is unique. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to your care.

Your treatments may include specific pelvic floor exercises designed to improve the strength, endurance, or flexibility of your pelvic floor muscles, as well as the option of manual therapy (hands-on techniques to address pelvic pain or tightness), electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback (a tool that allows you to see the electrical output of your pelvic floor muscles in real-time), and/or electrical stimulation (a tool to help your pelvic floor muscles contract when they are too weak to contract on their own). In addition, we take a comprehensive approach to your care, including discussing ways to modify your daily routine to help ease your symptoms. Most importantly, we believe in the value of empowering our patients with the education and skills they need to continue to improve independently. Our goal is to provide inclusive, gender-affirming, trauma-informed care to help you find and eliminate those pesky “cracks in the foundation” of your body so that you can enjoy many happy, healthy years.

Experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction can be difficult, but you don’t have to manage it alone. Our exceptional physical therapists are experts in pelvic health and can create a strengthening program specifically for your activities and goals. For more information, visit the Des Moines University Physical Therapy Clinic website or call 515-271-1717.

Disclaimer: This content is created for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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