First things first, what are the symptoms of pelvic-floor issues?
There’s more to pelvic-floor dysfunction than incontinence. Symptoms range from decreased wind control, to increased frequency of going to the loo, to pain during sex or when using a tampon, to generalised pelvic or hip pain. Symptoms tend to be most prevalent after childbirth but cardio can be a sneaky culprit, whether you’ve had a baby or not. If you recognise any of these symptoms, it could be worth giving your pelvic floor some TLC.
Got you. So what’s the relationship between cardio and the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor plays a vital role in your gym routine, stabilising your core, preventing injury, and supporting the pelvic organs, bladder and colon. The pelvic-floor muscles also stabilise the hips and spine. However, the nature of your workout could be causing you problems. When you workout, the diaphragm, deep abdominals and pelvic floor have to work together to stabilise the pelvis. Low-impact cardio, like cycling and walking, does not require as much activation, while high-impact activity, such as running and HIIT, demands much more activation.
Should you avoid running if you have a weak pelvic floor?
Yes. If you experience any leakage during running, stop running in the short-term and seek help from a pelvic health physio. While you don’t have to avoid running forever, it’s really important to get any niggles sorted.
How much leakage is normal?
No amount of urinary leakage during activity is normal. Think about it like any other niggles you may have during exercise; if you had on-going knee or hip pain, you’d book in to see a physio. Don’t treat the pelvic floor differently just because there’s no obvious pain.
Can your pelvic floor become tight like other muscles?
Absolutely, an overly-tight pelvic floor can cause just as many problems as a weak one. If you’re suffering from pain during sex or when using a tampon, or going to the loo more often than normal, your pelvic floor could be overly tight. This is often caused by poor breathing techniques, especially if you tend to hold your breath when lifting weights. Similarly, if you solely focus on cardio without working on flexibility and regeneration, then your pelvic floor can become tight.
What are your golden rules for a healthy pelvic floor?
Treat your pelvic floor like you would any other muscle. If you don’t focus on strengthening it, it will weaken over time. Pilates is a great way to encourage healthy pelvic-floor activation and, when in the gym, concentrate on your breathing. Try exhaling through the effort of your exercise; for example, as you stand up from a squat, exhale and contract your pelvic floor.
Where can you find out more?
Don’t suffer in silence. Pelvic-health physiotherapists are widely available across the NHS and privately across the UK. The Squeezy App is also a great resource if you struggle with pelvic-floor exercises. If you’re a new mum looking to return to exercise, consider booking in for a Mummy MOT – you can find a practitioner here.
Clare Bourne is a pelvic-health physiotherapist specialised in caring for women and men with a variety of different symptoms, including incontinence, pelvic pain and sexual dysfunction. She is passionate about raising awareness of pelvic-floor health throughout life, not just for pregnant and postnatal women. Clare’s clinic is based in Six Physio but she also works with Bumps and Burpees, and Mummy Tribe.
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