Ladies: How to Care for Your Pelvic Floor
Written for Massage Greenpoint By Helen Phelan of http://www.helenvphelan.com
Most women, especially expecting mothers, know the importance of a strong pelvic floor. A strong pelvic floor can help ease childbirth and recovery, improve bladder/bowel control, and heighten sensation in the bedroom. However, this knowledge can send many women into a kegel routine that could potentially make things worse. What many people are unaware of is that a tight muscle is actually a weak muscle. Poor posture can affect the amount of tension the pelvic floor muscles are under and cause them to overwork to support your organs because they become shortened, weakened.
This can manifest as chronic pain in pelvis and the surrounding areas such as the: the sacroiliac joints, pubic symphysis, glutes, groin, iliotibial band, hamstrings, abdominals, quadratus lumborum muscles and can promote diastasis recti and overall weakness. Additionally, incontinence, not being able to fully empty your bladder or start the flow of urine, constipation, coccyx pain, and painful intercourse, could all be the result of your pelvic floor being TOO engaged and working incorrectly, rather than not working hard enough.
If you are experiencing any of the above issues, check first with your gynecologist to see if your pelvic floor is hypertonic, and try these self massage and stretch techniques to help relieve tension and pain.
Conditioning your pelvic floor to relax is called downtraining and visualization and breath are key. When diaphragmatic breathing your diaphragm will dome downward like a jellyfish to create space for the inhale, making it easier for the pelvic floor to drop and relax at the same time. When you exhale, the diaphragm will rise to push the air outward, so you can visualize lifting the pelvic floor and contracting those muscles as you breathe out. This might take some practice if you are used to clenching and holding stress here, so be patient as you work on this.
Lay down flat on your back to unload the weight of your body from your pelvic floor- when you’re upright your pelvic floor muscles are under tension from the weight of your torso. Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your abdomen. As you inhale feel the hand over your belly rise with your breath and imagine you are letting a stream of urine go (without actually going!). On the exhale, feel the hand over your belly fall with your breath (without squeezing your abs) and stop the imaginary stream of urine (without fully squeezing the pelvic floor into a kegel). Practice for 5 minutes daily.
Supine Pelvic Floor Stretch (Happy Baby)
Once you’ve gotten the hang of downtraining, you can amp it up a little with a pelvic floor stretch.
Lay flat on your back and hug the knees into your chest, rock side to side a few times to massage the back body. If available to you, reach your hands to your calves, ankles or outer edges of your feet for a “happy baby” yoga pose. Inhale and allow the belly to balloon out and the pelvic floor to fully drop (without bearing down) and exhale to draw the belly button back to the spine (without squeezing the ab muscles or pelvic floor). Practice 5 minutes daily.
Inner Arch Release (Tennis Ball)
Surrounding your muscles and skeleton (and nerves arteries, and veins) is a web of connective tissue called fascia. This web connects the muscles in the feet to the legs to the pelvic floor.
During pregnancy, hormonal changes and fluid retention can cause feet to swell in size and flatten arches. This widening and lengthening of the foot fascia can increase strain and engagement of the pelvic floor. Using a ball to release the muscles of the feet can help restore it’s strength and elasticity.
Standing near a wall for balance support, place a tennis or lacrosse ball underneath the medial (inner) arch of your bare foot. Roll the ball up and down the length of your medial arch from just under the ball of the foot to just above the heel. Lean into as much pressure as you can stand, breathing through the tender sensitive sensation.Pass back and forth 8-10 times. Repeat on the other side.
Inner Thigh Release (Foam Roller)
All five adductors (inner thigh muscles) attach directly to the pelvic floor, so keeping them pliable is important for your pelvic floor health.
Lay down on your stomach and prop yourself up on your forearms, bring one knee up and out to the side towards your armpit and place the foam roller longways under the inner thigh (close to the groin). Keep the upper body square to the floor as you roll the inner thigh over the foam roller down towards the knee (but stopping before you hit the joint). Breathe deeply throughout, exhaling into the pressure to deepen it. Pass back and forth 8-10 times.
Sacral Release (Foam Roller)
Release tension in the hips and lower back to further alleviate uncomfortable symptoms and improve posture.
Lay down supine on your mat with bent knees and feet planted on the floor. Engage your glutes and abdominals to bridge your hips up and place the roller width wise under your sacrum (the bony landmark between your hips). Take your hands to the sides of the roller to secure it, and lift the legs to tabletop one leg at a time. Windshield wipers the knees right and left to massage the sacral area and the glutes. Sweep back and forth 8-10 times.
Article written for Massage Greenpoint by Helen Phelan: Helen Phelan believes in a comprehensive approach to wellness. She specializes in athletic, technical, and physically challenging workouts with a creative twist. A former contemporary dancer, with a BFA in dance performance and choreography, and a BA in Psychology from Elon University, Helen first found Pilates as rehab for a performance injury. After battling a lifetime of disordered eating and body dysmorphia, Helen attended the Institute of Integrative Nutrition to become a health coach and a better qualified resource in her students' healing of both body and mind. She's a continuing ed junkie; in addition to comprehensive mat and apparatus certifications through The Lab and Erika Bloom Pilates Plus, she has studied Prenatal/Post-Partum Pilates and Diastasis Correction, Gait Correction, Pilates for the Elderly; Protocols for Osteoporosis, Pilates for Scoliosis, Low Back Pain, TRX Suspension Training, and TRX Functional Fitness. Helen is currently enrolled in the Postpartum Corrective Exercise Specialist program with Dr. Sarah Duvall. When she's not at the studio or studying, you can find her in a French class or playing with her rescue mutt, Hugo, at the park.