Did you know that almost every exercise you do affects your pelvic floor? And that some exercises can actually harm these muscles, leading to bladder or bowel control problems?
Women are bombarded with increasing media pressure to regain their pre-baby figure, which often results in women returning to intense exercise too soon and ending up with problems. Some types of exercise can cause or worsen pelvic floor problems, because some activities place more stress on the pelvic floor than others. This is reinforced in our culture of abdominal strengthening - people still believe that doing curl-ups will flatten their stomachs post-baby. But it is exactly these types of exercise, done by ‘at risk’ women that can exacerbate or even cause pelvic floor dysfunction.
The pelvic floor is the base of the group of muscles commonly referred to as your ‘core’, and your pelvic floor muscles provide support to the bladder, uterus and bowel and play a key role in bladder and bowel control. A good pelvic floor is also vital to good sexual function as it provides sensation and contracts during orgasm. Many of us don’t understand how important our pelvic floor is until we start experiencing pelvic floor problems. The New Zealand Continence Association is highlighting the link between exercise and the pelvic floor during World Continence Week (20–26 June).
Pelvic floor problems are common, and affect both men and women. Signs that can indicate a pelvic floor problem include accidentally leaking when you exercise, laugh or cough, or needing to go to the toilet and not making it in time. You are at increased risk of pelvic floor problems if you are pregnant, have ever had a baby, or have experienced menopause or prostate problems.
“I was getting so frustrated with the same story every week,” says Lisa Yates, women’s health physiotherapist. “Women were amazed by how common their problem was and annoyed that they had been potentially making it worse by doing certain exercises… I have also noticed over the years a growing concern amongst continence practitioners, seeing the same story over and over.”
The good news is that, with the right help, these problems can be treated and in many cases cured.
It presents a very real dilemma as “We don’t want women to stop exercising”, says Jan Zander, CEO of the New Zealand Continence Association. “Instead we want to encourage people to seek guidance from professionals – to ensure their exercise programme is suitable.” They plan to educate men and women about the link between incontinence and exercise, with the support of the Pelvic Floor First campaign, which is being launched this week in both Australia and New Zealand.
For a free pamphlet explaining how to protect the pelvic floor and stay in control and more information on pelvic floor safe exercises and which exercises to avoid phone 0800 650 659 or go to www.continence.org.nz.