Pelvic floor health is a significant yet overlooked aspect of women’s health. It’s a topic that affects millions of women across the United States.
According to a 2022 study, about 32% of women have had at least one pelvic floor condition in their lives. Out of these women, 60% had more than one pelvic floor disorder (PFD). Moreover, each disorder had its risk factors that complicated the pattern and the diagnosis.
These numbers prove that taking care of your pelvic floor is crucial. The pelvic floor is made up of muscles, ligaments, and tissues that hold the bladder, uterus, vagina, and rectum in place. Keeping these muscles strong can prevent issues like urinary incontinence (UI) and pelvic organ prolapse (POP). However, there are several myths and misconceptions out there about pelvic floor health.
This article will debunk five common myths so you can take charge of your pelvic wellness.
Myth #1: Pelvic Floor Problems Only Affect Sedentary or Older Women
It’s easy to assume that with old age, your pelvic muscles get weak and lead to disorders. But the truth is, pelvic floor dysfunction can start at any age, depending on various risk factors.
According to the Mayo Clinic, about 25% of women over the age of 20 have some sort of pelvic floor issue. While PFDs are common in women over the age of 40, they can affect the younger generations as well. Pregnancy and childbirth are major culprits. Vaginal childbirth puts tremendous pressure on the pelvic floor, which leads to muscle weakness later on.
Genetics can also play a role. Some women are born with weaker connective tissue that provides pelvic support. Obesity and chronic constipation are other factors that can increase pelvic pressure and cause earlier problems.
Staying fit and maintaining a healthy body weight is key to keeping your pelvic floor strong, no matter your age.
Myth #2: Kegel Exercise Is the Ultimate Cure
Kegel exercises are often touted as the go-to solution for pelvic floor dysfunction. And it’s true that regularly contracting and relaxing these muscles can relieve symptoms and prevent certain concerns.
But kegels alone may not fully resolve severe cases of prolapse and incontinence.
Other exercises and therapies, such as weightlifting, yoga, and Pilates, are more effective in activating the pelvic floor muscles. Moreover, as TruLaw puts it, non-surgical treatments like biofeedback training, vaginal pessaries, electrical stimulation, and lifestyle changes are also beneficial. Surgery should always be your last resort!
Kegels are an excellent first line of defense and maintenance. Pelvic floor physical therapy takes kegels further by working with specialists on proper breathing, muscle coordination, and tissue mobilization techniques. However, working with a pelvic floor PT can help identify if more intensive therapies are needed for full rehabilitation.
Myth #3: Surgery Is the Only Fix for Severe Pelvic Floor Issues
Contrary to popular belief, surgery isn’t always the ultimate solution for severe pelvic floor issues. While surgery might be necessary in some cases, it’s not the only or inevitable option.
Traditional thinking has been to try other conservative treatments first and only turn to surgery when symptoms become unmanageable. But more recent guidelines support surgery earlier in critical candidates. This is because the long-term success rates of pessaries, physical therapy, and medication decline over time in severe cases.
Talk with your doctor early on about the pros and cons of surgical options like pelvic mesh, sling procedures, hysterectomy, and more based on your case to determine if surgery may provide longer-lasting relief.
Note: As of recently, one surgical option that has garnered major attention, is the use of transvaginal mesh implants. This minimally invasive procedure has been the subject of thousands of vaginal mesh lawsuits due to complications like pain, bleeding, and erosion through vaginal tissues. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has even banned the sale of such transvaginal devices, claiming that the pros do not hold any weight over the cons when using these devices for surgery.
So, make sure you’re fully informed about all the risks and benefits before making any surgical decisions.
Myth #4: It’s Normal to Leak Urine When Performing Heavy Physical Activity
It’s embarrassing when coughing, sneezing, or high-intensity exercise cause you to leak urine. Yet, many women brush it off as normal or just part of getting older.
Regular urine leakage during everyday activities is not normal and could be a symptom of urinary incontinence. It is a condition where your pelvic floor muscles weaken and struggle to hold back urine. Though it might also happen during activities like jumping or lifting weights, it shouldn’t be dismissed as a typical outcome. Instead, it’s a sign that your pelvic floor might need help. Don’t ignore minor leaks, as the progression of incontinence can worsen over time.
See your OB-GYN or a pelvic floor physical therapist to evaluate if you may have underlying pelvic floor dysfunction. Addressing it early allows you to stop leaks before they become unmanageable.
Myth #5: Pelvic Floor Dysfunction Only Occurs in Women
While pelvic floor dysfunction is commonly associated with women, men too can experience it, albeit less frequently.
Issues like urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, or discomfort can occur in men due to factors such as aging, prostate problems, or pelvic trauma. About 30% of men visiting their doctors suffer from incontinence, yet over two-thirds of those men avoid mentioning it. Moreover, one in eight men suffers from pelvic floor, bladder, or bowel issues. These stats emphasize that pelvic floor issues are not exclusive to women.
Hence, it is essential to recognize that pelvic floor dysfunction can affect individuals of any gender, and both men and women can benefit from pelvic floor exercises and therapy.
In conclusion, debunking common myths about pelvic floor health is essential for women to take charge of their well-being.
Remember to see your doctor for a proper diagnosis and explore the many therapy options available before considering surgery. Staying proactive with your pelvic health will help you feel your best through all of life’s stages.