So back when I used to be a lawyer, I never thought much about my pelvic floor. I also didn’t think much about the way I peed myself just a little bit each time I sneezed or laughed too hard.
Turns out it’s not actually normal or healthy AT ALL to pee when you sneeze, laugh, run or jump. It’s actually a sign of a pelvic floor problem. Pelvic floor problems are body issues that affect more than 30% of all women and only get worse as you get older. It’s a problem for men, too, by the way, it’s just not talked about as much.
So what are pelvic floor problems? In fact, what’s a pelvic floor?
The Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor is a term used to describe the group of muscles and tissues that run between the bones of the hips and pelvis. It’s well named, because it literally acts like ‘floor’ for your torso by providing support for your internal organs. It’s also been designed to let some things come out – Pee! Poo! Babies! Even though it keeps everything else in. Or at least, that’s what it’s supposed to do.
Pelvic Floor Issues
‘Pelvic floor issues’ is a catch-all term to describe the problems that arise when these tissues stop being able to do their job.
Maybe stuff starts to leak (hello, sneeze pee!).
Or things hurt in that region – from your lower back, to your tail bone, hips, or during sex – anywhere down there.
If things get really bad, your organs can start to fall out of your body. This is called a prolapse, and typically can involve your bladder, your uterus, or your rectum. Not awesome.
For men, pelvic floor issues can involve pain, erectile dysfunction, and any of the symptoms described with the catch-all term, prostatitis.
Why Pelvic Floor Problems Happen
Because the pelvic floor provides support to the body, it needs to be strong and able to respond to a wide variety of stresses.
Typical stresses for the pelvic floor include sneezing and coughing, athletic activities like running and jumping, pushing stuff out of the body (Poo! Babies! Hopefully not pee!), and also the way you use your body every day for things like breathing and carrying stuff.
When enough stressors meet a weak pelvic floor, problems happen.
Why Pelvic Floors Get Weak
A strong, healthy pelvic floor is fine with stress. But our sedentary culture means that most people have a lot of movement habits that actually weaken our pelvic floor.
So what weakens a pelvic floor? Anything that shortens the muscles there, basically. That includes sitting for long periods of time, wearing heels of any kind, and underusing our hip joints. Since almost everyone wears heels and sits in chairs and sofas a lot, we’re all seriously weakening our pelvic floors.
At the same time, we don’t do much of the movement that strengthen pelvic floors – and I’m not talking about Kegels here, ladies! Unfortunately, most Kegels just shorten and tighten the pelvic floor muscles. They might help temporarily, but in the long term they often make the issue worse.
Instead, we should all be walking 10,000 – 15,000 steps a day, in minimal shoes (without any raised heel at all), and squatting on a regular basis. Not just any squat, either – if your lower back rounds like the letter “C” in a squat, it’s not doing a lot to strengthen your pelvic muscles. These are movements that create a healthy pelvic floor, and almost no one is doing them.
How to Treat Your Pelvic Floor Better
The good news is that making simple changes to your daily movement habits can make a huge difference in your pelvic health. Here are some easy changes to start you off.
1. Get out of heeled shoes. Even if it takes a while to transition, this is one of the best things you can do for your entire body, but especially for your pelvic floor. Here are some tips to help you transition safely and well.
2. Go for more walks. Regular and large amounts of walking help keep pelvic floor muscles strong, especially walking on hills and on natural surfaces instead of pavement.
3. Sit on the floor instead of in chairs whenever you can. It sounds a bit crazy, but sitting on the floor is a great way to naturally stretch your hip muscles and keep everything working better down there.
4. Learn how to sit better. When your lower back curves into a “C” shape, it’s a sign that your pelvis is tucked under. Sitting in a tucked pelvis shortens the pelvic floor muscles more than when your pelvis is neutral, and it’s not the best for your lower back, either. Here’s how to sit better.
5. Stop straining on the toilet. The extra pushing that comes with a difficult bowel movement is very stressful for the pelvic floor. Stay hydrated, eat lots of fibre, and invest in a toilet stool such as the Squatty Potty. This simple device will make elimination a million times easier and your pelvic floor a million times happier!
6. Start a simple squatting practice. It may not even look like you’re squatting – just stretching your calves and hamstrings will deliver many of the benefits of squats to an under-used pelvic floor. Try this program to start you off.
7. Stop doing Kegels. You’re welcome. (Unless you’re under the supervision of a trained pelvic floor physiotherapist, anyway).
Whether you’re planning to have a baby, recovering from having a baby, or trying to keep your body healthy for a lifetime, better movement habits can make all the difference! My sneeze pee took about a year to go away once I started moving better. Now every time I sneeze I smile to myself instead!