Too many people have the impression that pelvic floor muscles are used only in childbirth. And many men don’t realize that they have these muscles too, just like women. The truth is that the pelvic floor is a key member of a team of muscles that, along with a vast network of nerves, vessels, and connective tissue, form our inner core. The other muscles are the transverse abdominis, or “abs,” the diaphragm, and the deep, back muscles. They all are linked and work in unison to support the pelvic organs, stabilize the pelvis, and our keep our posture erect. When these muscles are strong, you are at less risk of back injuries and falling. When they are weak, you’re at risk for spinal injuries, back pain, poor posture, breathing disorders, and yes, incontinence and prolapse of pelvic organs.
Weight gains in pregnancy, and subsequently childbirth, place a woman’s body at significant risk of weakening and even damaging the pelvic floor, nerves, and connective tissues. These are the muscles that help us maintain control over both the bladder and bowels. Pelvic nerves maintain strong and healthy pelvic muscles, and connective tissues help to secure the pelvic organs in place. Incontinence affects 30-50% of childbearing women by age 40.
In addition to the urinary sphincters serving as the valve whose job is to keep the bladder neck closed when the bladder is filling, the pelvic floor can be weakened in men undergoing prostate removal for cancer. Studies indicate that as many as 50% of men report leakage of urine in the first few weeks following surgery. Even after a year, approximately 20% will continue to have a significant problem with incontinence. And yet even after a year, improvement in bladder control can be gained when pelvic floor muscle exercises are regularly and correctly performed. So don’t give up!
In both men and women whose pelvic floor muscles are weakened or damaged, bowel incontinence can occur as well as urinary incontinence. This is because these muscles include the bundle of fibers that spans to the anus, or bowel outlet. These help to control the release of gas or fecal matter from the bowel. Keeping these muscles strong as a lifelong passion can help prevent loss of control in later years.