How Physical Therapy Can Treat Pelvic Health | PT Effect

How Physical Therapy Can Treat Pelvic Health

Physical therapy can treat pelvic dysfunction and strengthen the pelvic floor
Read Time: 4.5 min
Oct 7, 2021

Your pelvic health impacts the proper functioning of your bladder, your bowels, and your reproductive systems. Poor pelvic health, particularly with the pelvic floor muscles, can have a major negative impact on your ability to control urination and bowel movements and can even cause sex to be painful. For this reason, maintaining good pelvic health can affect more than just your physical well-being, but also your social and mental health.

Fortunately, pelvic floor dysfunction, and other pelvic disorders are treatable through physical therapy. Here’s how physical therapy can help to treat pelvic health.

What Is the Pelvic Floor?

Pelvic floor muscles are located in the pelvis between the pubic bone and the tailbone. The pelvic floor is made up of the muscles that are used to control urination and bowel movements as well as support the pelvic organs, which include:

  • Bladder
  • Rectum
  • Uterus
  • Vagina
  • Prostate

How Does the Pelvic Floor Affect Pelvic Health?

Pelvic health involves the proper functioning of the pelvic organs and muscles, which affect urination, bowel movements, and reproductive health. The pelvic floor plays a major role in the overall health of your pelvic region. If you have pelvic floor dysfunction, then these normal functions can be negatively affected.

What Is Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?

Pelvic floor dysfunction occurs when you aren’t able to coordinate or relax the muscles of the pelvic floor in order to urinate or to have a bowel movement. Pelvic floor dysfunction can also impact sexual health. The symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction include:

  • Constipation
  • Straining during defecation
  • Stool leakage
  • Urine leakage
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Pain during sex
  • Erectile dysfunction

What Is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy?

Physical therapist doing pelvic floor therapy

Pelvic floor physical therapy targets the pelvic floor muscles, connective tissues, and ligaments that work together to support the pelvis and pelvic organs. Physical therapy involves stretches and exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor.

How Does Physical Therapy Treat Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?

Pelvic floor dysfunction occurs when you can’t relax or coordinate the muscles of the pelvic floor. Physical therapy helps patients to both strengthen and control those muscles better. This helps with the overall stability of the pelvic region as well as improved function of pelvic organs.

What Else Can Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Treat?

Physical therapy for the pelvic floor can help with a number of different things:

  • Incontinence
  • Painful urination
  • Painful sex
  • Bowel and bladder movements
  • Posture
  • Breathing
  • Constipation
  • Endometriosis
  • Testicular pain
  • Interstitial cystitis
  • Pregnancy pain
  • Symptoms of menopause

How Does Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Work?

pelvic floor compressor tool

Physical therapy for pelvic health begins with evaluating what problems a patient is having. The physical therapist then can perform stretches and help the patient perform exercises to strengthen and lengthen pelvic floor muscles. There may be exercises and stretches that the physical therapist assigns to do at home. Some exercises and stretches may specifically target symptoms while others may focus more on strengthening muscles.

Overall Assessment and Pelvic Floor Muscle Examination

In the initial session, the physical therapist will begin by evaluating the patient’s pelvic health problems. This evaluation will determine the best course of treatment for the problem.

Manual Therapy

Manual therapy, which is also called manipulative therapy, is a technique used by physical therapists that involves manually putting pressure on muscles or manually manipulating joints. In the case of pelvic floor dysfunction, a physical therapist can use manual therapy to treat soft tissues and muscles that are a part of the pelvic floor in order to ease any tension there.

Therapeutic Exercises

Physical therapists also use therapeutic exercises to treat pelvic floor dysfunction. These exercises are used to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. These exercises are specifically targeted to treat the muscle groups needed to address pelvic floor dysfunction and can include pelvic floor contractions (sometimes referred to Kegels) and squats.

Muscle Re-Education

Muscle re-education is the process of retraining the muscles, brain, and nerves to work together. Some pelvic floor dysfunctions may be the result of an inability to properly coordinate the correct muscles. Muscle re-education can help to retrain these muscles to work together as they should.

Stretching

Pelvic floor dysfunction can also be the result of shortened muscles. Stretches can help to both strengthen and lengthen muscles so they work better.

Patient Education

Physical therapy isn’t just about treating the physical ailment. It’s also about educating the patient so they can continue to help themselves outside of physical therapy sessions. A physical therapist can show patients how to perform stretches and exercises they can do at home. They may also have recommendations for lifestyle changes that can impact their pelvic health.

What Are Some Physical Therapy Exercises for the Pelvic Floor?

Woman doing pelvic floor stretch

Some of the exercises and stretches that can strengthen the pelvic floor include:

  • Pelvic floor contractions or Kegels (contracting and then relaxing the pelvic floor muscles)
  • Squats (bending the knees so that the thighs are parallel to the floor)
  • Bridge (lying on your back and raising the hips into the air)
  • Bird dog (starting on all fours and lifting the opposite arm and leg at the same time, then repeating on the opposite side)
  • Split tabletop (lying on your back with your legs in the air and knees bent and opening and closing your legs)

Is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Right For You?

Physical therapy is commonly recommended as the first treatment for disorders in the pelvic area. Pelvic disorders caused by weakened pelvic floor muscles in particular are treated with physical therapy. This is the case for both men and women. Doctors usually recommend physical therapy if there’s a neuromuscular cause to a pelvic disorder.

Pelvic disorders can be caused by:

  • Surgery
  • Childbirth
  • Illness
  • Aging

Anyone who has experienced a pelvic disorder such as urinary incontinence may benefit from pelvic floor physical therapy.

Struggling With Pelvic Floor Pain?

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Mark Shulman

Dr. Mark Shulman

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), FAAOMPT, COMT, CSCS

Founder

Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists.


Mark Shulman

Dr. Allison McKay

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), PRPC

Co-Founder


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1601 Kettner Blvd Suite 11
San Diego, CA 92101