A Seattle physical therapist says 1 in 3 women experiences pelvic-floor dysfunction, and not all of them have been pregnant and had babies, although giving birth can be a cause.
I FIRST HEARD about pelvic-floor difficulties at CrossFit. Women talked openly on the group Facebook page about trying not to wet themselves during double unders — CrossFit-speak for two spins of the jump rope on a single hop.
These were active, strong women, and pelvic-floor strength clearly was a challenge. Curious to know more, I heard about pelvic-floor workshops for women, and I decided to learn from an expert.
Nancy Boyd, a Seattle physical therapist who specializes in the pelvic floor, told me that 1 in 3 women experiences pelvic-floor dysfunction, and not all of them have been pregnant and had babies, although giving birth is a cause.
Boyd focuses on women and hosts workshops on the topic, but men also frequently experience pelvic pain and, like women, don’t always seek help.
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A lot of people live with bladder leakage — a euphemism I am rolling with — and it is not something you need to live with daily, Boyd says. Other signs of dysfunction include going to the bathroom constantly, or pelvic pain.
But first, you have to know where your pelvic floor is. Your pelvic floor is the base of your core — the top is your diaphragm, the front is your abs, and the back is your hip and back muscles. If your pelvic floor is weak, like an open pop can, it collapses more easily.
Even if you don’t typically experience trouble daily, a high-impact exercise like double unders might show you have work to do.
Sometimes the pelvic floor is weak. Many women are familiar with kegels, or pelvic-floor exercises, but Boyd says those are not a one-size-fits-all solution. For some people, the challenge is learning to relax the pelvic floor.
One simple exercise to work on is a deep squat. Your pelvic floor has to release to go to the bathroom, and a squat, with your heels on the ground, teaches you to relax your pelvic floor. It also helps with hip mobility, which can be another cause of pelvic-floor challenges.
Breathing also relaxes your pelvic floor. If you let go of holding your belly to belly breathe, you use your diaphragm for your inhales and exhales. Diaphragm breathing helps with both mobility and stability in your pelvic floor, Boyd says.
She showed me a breathing technique to do in bridge, a yoga pose. She had me come down to my back, bring my feet in close to my pelvis, and practice inhaling to lift my hips up and exhaling on the way down, letting my belly balloon on the inhale and shrink on my exhales.
She also works on posture adjustment to help your core activate automatically rather than thinking about it. You don’t want to think about your pelvic floor during double unders, she noted. Amen to that.
For some people, releasing your hips will make a difference, while others need to work on side bends. Endurance is important for stability, while breath work helps you learn how to use your core without thinking, or what Boyd calls function.
If you think you potentially have pelvic-floor dysfunction, Boyd has a couple of recommendations: Stop going to the bathroom “just in case.” Your bladder changes what it considers full, so go only when you really have to go. It should be around six to eight times per day, not every half-hour, she says.
Also, kegels are not a solution for everyone. If you have difficulties with pelvic pain or bladder leakage, see a professional.
The ultimate test for pelvic-floor stability is to jump on a trampoline, Boyd says. That sounds like the perfect test to me — physical, challenging and totally fun.