The 5 "S"s of the Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor has how many functions?! The pelvic floor has more responsibility than we may think! Let’s take a quick dive into the 5 essential “S” functions of the pelvic floor.
The pelvic floor muscles wrap around the urethra and rectum to control the opening and closing of the sphincters. When there is an increase in abdominal pressure, which can be caused by sneezing, coughing, laughing, or exercise, the pelvic floor muscles need to contract to prevent urinary or fecal incontinence. The pelvic floor muscles also need to relax and lengthen to allow us to urinate or have a bowel movement without straining.
The pelvic floor muscles help support our pelvic organs (bladder, rectum, and uterus) by acting like a hammock or basket. The pelvic floor muscles extend from the pubic bone in the front to the tailbone in the back and from your right sit bone to the left sit bone. If the pelvic floor muscles become weak from excess strain or hormonal changes, the pelvic organs can start to descend in the pelvic cavity causing prolapse. Some symptoms of prolapse can be described as heaviness, pressure, or dullness in the pelvic area, painful intercourse, or a bulge in the vagina.
Believe it or not, the pelvic floor is actually one of the FOUR muscles that make up the inner “core”. The inner core is composed of the transverse abdominis, diaphragm, multifidi, and pelvic floor. These muscles, especially the pelvic floor, create stability across the pelvis and allow our body to safely transmit force from one side to the other when we move our legs or trunk.
The pelvic floor plays a huge role in your sexual pleasure. The pelvic floor works to achieve and maintain an erection, allow for penetration, and contract during orgasm. Sufficient pelvic floor strength is needed for orgasm and pelvic floor lengthening is needed for penetration. Excessive tension or sensitivity of the pelvic floor can contribute to pain during or after intercourse.
Similar to how the calf muscles work to pump and return blood flow back up towards the heart, the pelvic floor muscles act as a sump pump to move blood and lymph pump out of the pelvic cavity. If the sump pump action of the pelvic floor muscles is impaired, a person may develop swelling or pelvic congestion. The sump pump function is especially important during the postpartum period when there can be more swelling and trauma to the area.
These 5 functions are essential for optimal pelvic floor health and functioning. If your pelvic floor is struggling to fulfill one or more of its responsibilities, a pelvic floor physical therapist can help you get to the root cause of the problem. A pelvic floor examination will help determine whether the pelvic floor muscles are too tight, too weak, or both! Remember you are the best advocate for your own health, especially your pelvic floor health :)