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This month we honor those who gave birth to us – our Moms!  It’s no secret that pregnancy and birthing have a dramatic effect on a woman’s body.  After giving birth and getting doctor’s clearance for exercise every mom I know wants to rush back into class and “work on their abs.”  Of course, Pilates does focus on the core and so the abs are part of that.  What may not be commonly understood though, is the integral role that the Pelvic Floor has—that it’s actually part of the inner core.  It helps stabilize the pelvis which is important for alignment. And you KNOW alignment is a foundational part of Pilates.

One of my teachers, Eric Franklin, wrote an introduction to the pelvic floor in ”Pelvic Power for Men and Women” – So, I’d like to quote the general description from his book:

The pelvic floor has two main functions: it acts as a support for inner organs, and it contains a passage for the urethra, the sex organs, the rectum, and for a baby during birth.  A good floor is strong and solid; a good passage is open and clear.  Thus the two tasks of the pelvic floor contain opposites which can only be resolved with elasticity and adaptability in the tissue.

Our studio often gets referrals of patients completing their course of rehab and needing to continue training for core and overall strength gains as well as improved function.  Integrity Physical Therapy for Women specializes specifically in pelvic floor dysfunction.  They assist patients in re-learning how to use those muscles to help perform optimally as Franklin describes.

Because we do get lots of moms into the studio, I thought it would be great to focus this time on the pelvic floor.  So, I asked Denise Amsrud DPT, Women’s Health Clinical Specialist if she would help answer some common questions about the Pelvic Floor.

What is the relationship between the pelvic floor muscles and posture?

The pelvic floor works together with the Transversus Abdominus (the deepest abdominal muscle) in supporting the low back.  If the pelvic floor is weak, this will affect postural alignment of the pelvis and of the spine.  In turn, our posture affects pelvic floor muscle function and tone.  When we stand and sit in good alignment, the bony pelvis and the pelvic floor muscles efficiently support the internal organs.  When we slouch, it puts undue pressure on the pelvic floor and over time can weaken those muscles.

Like other muscles in the body, the pelvic floor plays its part in our everyday movement and function.  For instance, if we hold too much tension in our abs or upper back while standing, the pelvic floor muscles will also hold excessive tension.  This limits natural movements of the pelvis, disrupting the dynamic adaptability needed for walking or bending at the hips.

Why is it important to our overall health to maintain healthy pelvic floor muscles (pfm)?

The pelvic floor is an essential part of core strength.  In addition, it helps maintain continence of both bladder and bowel.  These muscles also provide support for the internal organs.  When we are young, we don’t think too much about the pelvic floor.  However, as women have children and then go through menopause, the pelvic floor is greatly affected.  Obviously, the stronger the pelvic floor muscles are to begin with, the less compromise there will be in the long run.  Our habits also affect pelvic floor function.  For instance, if you strain when having bowel movements or habitually hold your breath while doing abdominal exercises you are increasing the likelihood that you will have incontinence, organ prolapse or back pain in the future.

How are pelvic floor exercises and Pilates related?

core-muscles-pluspelvicfloorPilates and pelvic floor exercises are directly related.  If you are properly engaging your core abdominal muscles, the pelvic floor should be working as well.  Cues commonly used in Pilates of “squeeze your thighs together”, “squeeze the magic ring”, and “draw up into Pilates stance” are all ways to increase core power through the pelvic floor.  The Pilates instructor may not always say you are working your pelvic floor in every exercise, but in fact you are, if you’re executing correctly.

When you contract your pfm and abdominals you should not feel outward pressure in the abdomen.  Starting from a relaxed position, you should feel slight inward draw and squeezing at the anus, vagina or urethra.  Additionally, you should be able to contract your pelvic floor muscles without holding your breath or changing chest position.

If you are contracting your muscles correctly and have no issues with bowel, bladder or sexual function, your Pilates workouts should keep your pelvic floor strong and healthy.

If you have questions about pelvic floor contractions, leak during exercise or feel pressure in the pelvic floor during your workout, you should talk with your Pilates instructor, and consider seeking assistance from a Women’s Health Specialist.

Don’t forget to check out the May Specials mentioned in our last newsletter

See you in the studio!

Our special thanks to Denise for contributing to today’s blog! Denise Amsrud has been performing women’s health physical therapy since 1990. She earned her doctor of physical therapy in 2011 and became a board certified women’s health clinical specialist in 2012.

Denise Amsrud PT, DPT, WCS, BCB-PMD
Board Certified Women’s Health Clinical Specialist
Integrity Physical Therapy for Women
1804 N. Naper Blvd. Suite 304
Naperville, IL 60563

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