A weak pelvic floor is no fun. Trampolines become a thing of the past, Tena Lady pads a shopping list staple and sneezing, jumping, running – even coughing – all come with the threat of a wet gusset. Urinary dysfunction is rarely talked about, yet one in three women are affected at some point in their lives. The good news is, that with some intervention, 75% of symptoms can be reversed. SL wellness contributor Emma Bardwell tells us how…
Book A Pilates Class
Pilates devotees have been waxing lyrical about its ability to strengthen pelvic floors for years. Instructor Gemma Folkard teaches in south east London and says the subject can be baffling for many mums: “Women are told to visualise their vagina as an unfurling flower or imagine their pelvic floor is ascending and descending like a lift – no wonder the majority struggle to do exercises correctly,” she says. “While a strong mind-body connection is vital, the key is not to over-think.”
Gemma says that one of the most effective ways to strengthen the entire pelvic girdle is simply through breath, movement and posture. “Regular Pilates classes encourage a natural awakening and awareness of the area that, after time, occurs almost involuntarily,” she says. Forget jerky, Kegel-style clenches and try repeatedly picking up your bath mat using your toes while standing instead (you should feel your inner thigh activate and a natural contraction of the pelvic floor); squats also pay huge dividends.
Get Some Gadgets
Innovo (£249) is a new, clinically proven, pelvic floor restoration system that promises significant bladder dysfunction improvement in just four weeks. The best part? It does the hard work for you. Gel pads are fitted inside what looks like a pair of cowboy chaps that wrap tightly around your bum and thighs. Once on, you hook up to a handheld controller that delivers 180 perfect contractions to the pelvic floor via electrical pulses. Each session lasts 30 minutes and you’re advised to complete five a week. There are two programmes: one for stress incontinence (when you leak after coughing or sneezing) and one for urge incontinence (a sudden and often uncontrollable desire to pass urine). The aim is to start gently and increase the power over time. Be warned, while the lower intensity feels like a pleasant tickle around your undercarriage, the higher end causes rather alarming (albeit painless) involuntary air humps.
Elvie (£149) is a pebble-shaped, wireless gizmo that you insert into your vagina. Once in, you link to an app on your phone which guides you through a series of mini workouts, each controlled by contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles. The stronger you are, the higher your score. The beauty of this sleek bit of kit is it takes the guesswork out of whether you’re doing the exercises correctly, plus as well as measurable results the app also helps hone your technique. Turning pelvic floor exercises into a game can be surprisingly fun, but – despite what the manufacturers say – it can’t feasibly be done anywhere, however, it is very stylish and could easily be transported in your handbag.
Try This Treatment
Geneveve (from £1,500) is a radio frequency procedure for women who suffer from vaginal laxity, urinary incontinence and decreased sexual function. It’s a one-off, 30-minute treatment that’s minimally invasive, pain-free and works by stimulating collagen growth to tighten the vagina. In randomised, controlled studies, 93% of women reported significant improvement. Dr Mayoni – a former NHS colorectal and pelvic floor specialist – offers the treatment at her London clinic. “Geneveve is nothing short of revolutionary for women,” she says. “There’s no surgery, no anesthesia and no downtime. It’s life-changing.”
Don’t Ignore It
While pregnancy and age are clear contributors to pelvic floor dysfunction, any repeated strain on the area – whether through chronic respiratory conditions, high impact exercise or constipation – can lead to incontinence. “It can be hard for women to visualise or connect with their pelvic floor,” explains women’s health physio Emma Hunter. “But ignoring weakness can cause pelvic organ prolapse, when the bladder, bowel or uterus drop into the path of the vagina. Pelvic floor exercises can be a great first line therapy when it comes to managing the symptoms and, in certain cases, can avoid the need for surgery.”
Utilise The NHS
Many assume incontinence is the price you pay for giving birth. It doesn’t have to be. Speak to your GP, ask to be referred to your local women’s health physio, or at the very least get the brilliant, Kegel exercise app Squeezy – designed by chartered pelvic health physiotherapists working in the NHS and featuring a bladder diary which can be shared with healthcare professionals.