It is officially autumn and as our beautiful state, Vermont, enjoys the annual dramatic change in leaf color and beautiful fall foliage, change has come to Phoenix Physical Therapy as well. We have expanded our clinic to include a new patient treatment room as well as a new staff room to provide for
our growing staff of pelvic floor muscle rehabilitation physical therapists.
A change in seasons is an excellent time to assess your current state of well being and evaluate what elements support your general health and what aspects of your life provide room for growth and change. As the season transitions to shorter, cooler days, we should feel encouraged to take the time to slow down and gather sustenance to provide our nourishment for the coming year.
It is important to remember that slowing down and taking the time to relax is an important part of our pelvic floor muscle health as well. Many of our patients who present with pelvic pain or incontinence also present with a hypertonic or “tight” pelvic floor muscle. It is not uncommon to hear a patient say, “I do Kegels 24/7 and I still leak!” But just like any muscle, the pelvic floor muscle needs to rest and move through its full range of motion to benefit from repetitions of pelvic floor muscle contractions. A “tight” muscle often responds to a “squeeze” by tightening even further, resulting in increased pelvic pain or, with incontinence, the inability for the muscle to do its job as “gatekeeper.”
How do you know if your pelvic floor muscle is “tight?” The easiest way is to determine if your pelvic floor muscle is functioning the way it should. Ask yourself a few questions. When you go to the toilet, is it difficult to initiate a stream of urine? Is the stream of urine interrupted? Do you have to train to empty your bladder? Do you think you have finished urinating and experience a dribble of urine after wiping? Do you have bowel movements that are thin and snake-like? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, the pelvic floor muscle may not be functioning as it should and it may be due to a hypertonic or “tight” muscle that is not able to release and contract properly to allow for you to urinate or have a bowel movement. Other symptoms of a “tight” muscle can be experiencing UTI-like symptoms with negative lab results, chronic vaginal discomfort and other signs of irritation caused by the pelvic floor muscle applying pressure around the vaginal, urethral and rectal areas.
So how do you relax your pelvic floor muscle? A simple, effective method is to take a deep breath into your belly, often referred to as a “balloon breath” – not only will this stimulate your whole system to revert to a state of “rest and digest,” it will also gently release your pelvic floor muscle from a tightened state. Lie down and make yourself comfortable. Put a pillow under your knees and make sure your head is supported in a comfortable way. Put both of your hands on your belly. Take a deep breath and feel it raise your belly slightly under your hands. Don’t force it or try to make your belly rise, just allow the breath to do it. Breathe in through your nose like you are smelling a rose and then breathe out through your mouth like you are blowing out a candle. Follow the breath visually to let your mind release thoughts and don’t worry about doing it “right.” As you continue to breathe, move your hands to the sides of your abdomen and ribs and feel the breath gently move out. Finally, as you breathe in, feel or envision that your pelvic floor muscle releases and gently moves away from the center of your body. Again, don’t force it – it’s a very subtle feeling. Continue with these deep belly breaths for about five minutes and find time in your day to continue with this practice of releasing your pelvic floor muscle once a day.
If learning to properly control this muscle is difficult for you or if you are unable to tell if you are using your muscle as it is intended, consider an evaluation at Phoenix PT. Our highly trained and skilled staff will offer you more information and exercise tips to help.
Taking care of yourself allows you to provide for all the people and activities you are committed to in your day-to-day. Enjoy the season and take the time to relax and regroup to ensure your well-being and the well-being of those around you.