Pelvic Floor Mythbusters: Is kegeling the one true way to a healthy pelvic floor?

Pelvis Drawing

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT.

Is kegeling the one true way to a healthy pelvic floor? Not always. We can end the blog here. Just kidding, of course there is nuance to be considered here. But as pelvic floor physical therapists, nothing is more cringe inducing than hearing the phrase “just do your kegels” thrown around for myriads of ailments from low libido, to pain, incontinence, and erectile dysfunction. While it is true the pelvic floor muscles can be involved in all of these conditions and in some cases kegels may help, there are many cases where kegels are the EXACT opposite of how you should be treating these muscles.

Physiology

To understand kegels we must first understand the pelvic floor. To understand the pelvic floor we must also explain the muscles at a very basic level. Bare with me readers, this will help us as we bust through this myth. Muscles, all muscles do what they do, by contracting and getting shorter to produce force. This is easy to see on a bodybuilder doing a bicep curl. As she curls her hand up you can see these muscles shortening into a little ball. Not only is this a great way to show off your gains in the gym, the shortening of these muscles are providing the strength to perform this task. We call this shortening a concentric contraction. Kegels are concentric contractions too! A good kegel will cause the pelvic floor to shorten and provide strength. Let’s go back to our body builder for a second. She has done her lift now she needs to lower her dumbbell back to the floor. In order to lower that dumbbell back to the floor in a controlled way, she needs what’s called an eccentric contraction, which is the controlled lengthening of the muscle. If she did not have a good eccentric contraction she may not be able to lower that weight effectively after she curled it. What if she couldn’t lower her bicep at all or just very slowly after her bicep curl? Maybe her weightlifting wouldn’t be as effective, she’d tire more easily, or she could develop pain. Would you tell this woman that more bicep curls would help? Or might you suggest a program of stretching first? Telling someone to do kegels, when you don’t know the status of their pelvic floor and how well it can relax is similar to telling the bodybuilder with the non relaxing bicep to just do more bicep curls. At best it certainly won’t help the situation and at worst it could cause more pain and dysfunction.

“But Fiona, I have incontinence, so that definitely means I have weaknesses, so it’s good for me to do kegels, right?”. Maybe… but in my experience, probably not. Let’s agree on one thing, it’s completely intuitive that people would think that kegels would help incontinence. The muscles of the pelvic floor are responsible for continence… so they must be weak if one is experiencing incontinence. You are right! When we think weak with muscles, we often think weak and loose, which is one form of weakness, but we rarely think weak and tight. Let’s go back to our body builder lady. She deserves a name at this point. Let’s call her Kendra. If Kendra has a tough time moving her lifting her arm from fully straight to a full bicep curl, we could guess she is weak and loose. But if Kendra could not fully straighten her arm out she would be considered weak and tight. Both of these versions of Kendra would have trouble curling heavy weight. One Kendra due to frank weakness another Kendra because she simply does not have enough room or range of motion to generate enough force to curl that dumbell.

Tight and weak pelvic floors are a lot like second Kendra with the poor ability to lengthen her arm. Tight pelvic floors have less range of motion to generate force. You need a good amount of force from the pelvic floor to counteract the pressure of activities like lifting, coughing, laughing and sneezing and stay continent. Over loose and over tight pelvic floors can’t really do that.

If you have pain in your pelvis not from a medical condition, (although tight pelvic floors present with many medical conditions), your pelvic floor is probably tight. A tight pelvic floor may also have trigger points which can send pain to various locations in your genitals, back, legs, and abdomen. Continuing to tighten can cause this pain to get worse.

Treatments

So how do you know what to do? This is where a skilled pelvic floor physical therapist can come in handy. They can assess the muscles by touching them either externally or internally to determine what course of action is right for you. If you are loose and weak, HAPPY DAYS! Strengthening can help them get better. If you have tight and weak muscles, HAPPY DAYS again! Gentle lengthening, stretching and down training of the muscles can help them get better. Did you know, because a tight pelvic floor can cause weakness itself, returning the proper length to the muscles can restore strength, without actually needing to kegel?! Wild! Regardless of the situation happy days can be ahead.

Skilled PT

Really knowing the pelvic floor is a skill and requires advanced expertise.  Kegels should not be initiated, unless the physical therapist has carefully examined your pelvic floor. Not all therapists are trained to do that technique so it is important to inquire about their background before starting pelvic floor PT. There are a lot of different ways to treat the pelvic floor, to read more What is Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy . If you are interested in learning more give us a call at 212- 354-2622 for a free consult if you live in the greater NY/NJ/CT area.

PH101: Ladies Session

By: Fiona McMahon, DPT
Hey Ladies!!! In the next installment of our Pelvic Health 101 course, we are hosting a ladies’ session to allow for a safe and non-threatening place to discuss many issues that can affect the health of your pelvic floor. This class one of Stephanie Stamas’s (the founder of PH101’s ) favorites and is definitely not to be missed. Hear more about it in her video below! Join us at 7pm on October 30th . Please register at pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

 

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Flyer-jpeg

Ph101 Men’s Only Seminar

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

On October 23rd at 7pm we will be hosting our  “Men’s Only Seminar”. Join us as we discuss how pelvic floor dysfunction affects the male pelvic floor. Learn how your sex life can be improved by pelvic floor treatment, how to regain function after prostatectomy, and how to rid yourself of the pain of prostatitis, and avoid antibiotics for the most common type of prostatitis. This seminar is not to be missed!

For more reading on male pelvic health topics, check out:

All About Testicles

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part 1

Navigating Life with Chronic Pain: Part II

Prostatitis What it is and What to do About it

Location:

110 East 42nd Street

Suite 1504

NY NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Flyer-jpeg

 

Ph101 Why is Pooping so Difficult?

 

toilet

Fiona McMahon, PT, DPT

The number of Americans who deal with constipation issues is massive (4 million)! It seems like every time I mention that I’m a pelvic floor physical therapist, another friend of a friend pulls me aside with bowel movement concerns. Why is it that so many people have issues? And more importantly – what can we do about it? This is the topic of our next Pelvic Health 101 seminar on October 2nd at 7pm.

Not only will constipation be discussed but other bowel conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome, fecal incontinence, bloating, and hemorrhoids will be addressed. The lecture will also go in depth on the role of fiber, water intake, toilet posture and pelvic floor muscles in having a successful bowel movement. You will even go home with easy techniques that you can implement immediately to help you get that smooth move! Don’t miss out on this FREE event – it’s a MUST for anyone who struggles on the porcelain throne. Seats are going fast!  Light snacks and refreshments will be served.

 

Register at pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com today.

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Check out or upcoming courses!

Pelvic Health 101 Flyer-jpeg

 

 

Mama’s 101: Recovering After Birth

On September 26th at 1 pm scoop up your baby and join us for our FREE educational seminar hosted by Dr. Joanna Hess as she provides the inside scoop on how to get back to leak free, bulge free movement.

Address:

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy – Downtown

156 William Street

Suite 800

New York, NY 10038

Date:

September 26th at 1 pm

Mamas 101 Flyer_Jpeg

Pelvic Health 101 is back! Come to Our First Class on September 18th

 

On September 18th, at 7pm we will be kicking off our fall semester of pelvic health education class, we call Pelvic Health 101 (PH101). In our first class we will be introducing you to the pelvic floor muscles, where they are, what they do, and how they relate to the health and function of your bowel, bladder, and sexual functioning. We will also be covering how things such as alignment, posture, muscle tone and nerves can affect your symptoms. This course is a great starting point to help you understand your pelvic floor and pelvic floor symptoms.

Please join us at our office at:

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY 10017
Register at: pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

Here is our line up of this and future classes

Pelvic Health 101 Flyer-jpeg

 

Fight or Flight? Rest and Digest? Optimizing your Life with the Power of your Autonomic Nervous System

Yoga or Pilates

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT, She, her, hers

You aren’t a zebra getting chased down by a lion on the Serengeti. You know that. But your body might not. Our modern day stress usually doesn’t involve us having to defend ourselves against wild animals. It often involves chronic seemingly unrelenting stress of work, relationships, and life. Stress, our perceived threats, chemically elicit the same type of response whether that is fending off a tiger or stressing over trying to care for your child while simultaneously crushing the game at work. These stress responses are governed by the sympathetic autonomic nervous system of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is a powerful system that governs virtually every function in our body to help optimize our responses to things we encounter day- to-day. It is essential to our survival. We can get into trouble if our stress response is perpetually turned on. You can’t fight or flight forever, we must transition out of that sympathetic nervous system back into our rest and digest system, the parasympathetic nervous system. In this blog we will go over the different parts of the ANS and how we can optimize it to live our healthiest and happiest lives.

Parasympathetic versus Sympathetic

In a perfect world our sympathetic and parasympathetic operate in concert to provide us with optimal functioning. When we go out for a run we need our sympathetic to quicken our heartbeat, stimulate glucose release from our liver, and allow us to sweat. After we finish our run and settle in for our post run snack, we need our parasympathetic to stimulate some saliva production, and get digestion started for us. See how the sympathetic and the parasympathetic can work perfectly together? Check out all the functions of the ANS below

Sympathetic Nervous System

  • Dilates pupil
  • Inhibits salivation
  • Constricts Blood Vessels
  • Accelerates Heart Rate
  • Stimulates Sweat Production
  • Stimulates Glucose Release
  • Stimulates secretion of norepinephrine and epinephrine
  • Inhibits urination
  • Stimulates orgasm

Parasympathetic Nervous System

  • Constricts pupil
  • Stimulates tear production and salivation
  • Slows Heartbeat
  • Stimulates digestion
  • Stimulates secretion
  • Promotes voiding
  • Stimulates erection

Health effects of stress

As you can see, the sympathetic nervous system provides us with some really important functions. But you can tell by looking at what it does for the body, that living in chronic sympathetic drive would be pretty uncomfortable. No one wants to walk around with their heart pounding and sweat pouring off their forehead. Beyond discomfort, chronic stress can deeply affect our health. Chronic stress can affect your immune system negatively making it harder for you to battle infections. Importantly for our pain patients, chronic stress can increase inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. This is important because that inflammation can actually make your pain worse. Chronic stress can also affect your digestion through a mechanism called the brain-gut-axis, which can affect how you absorb nutrients and the overall level of inflammation in your gut. You can listen to the details of how the autonomic nervous system can effect your gut on our Pelvic Messenger podcast.

Treatment

So you’ve read this far. You may now be feeling stress about being stressed, which definitely was not the intention of this blog post. Stress is part of life. Parents get sick, our kids get into trouble, money gets tight, life can be stressful. We simply cannot control events and the actions of other people that contribute to our stress. I call these things exogenous stressors, or stress that is occuring outside of ourselves. What we can attempt to control is how we react to those exogenous stressors.

That’s where mindfulness can be so helpful. Mindfulness can allow you to look at a problem without spiraling into extra stress. Let me give you an example. Say your boss gives you some negative feedback about a project at work. You can take the feedback at face value and use it as a tool to improve future projects or you can go down the rabbit hole. You can tell yourself that your boss not only didn’t like your performance on your project, but also doesn’t like you. You can create a narrative that you are inherently bad at your job, are on the verge of being fired, will not be able to afford to live in your house and so on and so on. The place you can take yourself in your mind can be so far from what actually happened. Travelling to those places can allow you to stress about things that haven’t happened or may never happen.

A way I personally learned mindfulness was through a smartphone app. I personally used Calm but 10% Happier, Buddify, and Headspace are also great. Getting into the practice of mindfulness takes… well… practice. I suggest giving it a full three weeks before throwing in the towel. There is no one cure for everyone and it is not a reflection on you, yourself personally if mindfulness is not your cup of tea.

Exercise is another great way to blow off some stress. Honestly, any exercise you do is good but throwing in some meditative movement practices to your repertoire can help up the returns you get from exercise. Meditative movement practices like Pilates, Yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi have been shown to offer a host of benefits for the body and soul.

Here’s the thing. Sometimes we can shake the weight of stress ourselves. That’s when having a professional help can be so life changing. Mental health professionals can not only lift the burden of how we react to stress, but by teaching us to manage our stress responses, they can help set the stage for real and profound healing to take place and augment your treatment at someplace like Beyond Basics Physical Therapy.

As I wrap this blog up, I ask you to make time for you. Your health and sense of well-being are one of your life’s most valuable commodities and you are worth it.

Sources

Low P. Overview of the autonomic nervous system. Merk Manual Professional Version. https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/neurologic-disorders/autonomic-nervous-system/overview-of-the-autonomic-nervous-system Accessed May 23, 2019

Mariotti A, . The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future SCI OA. 2015 Nov; 1(3): FSO23

Won E, Kim Y. Stress, the autonomic nervous system, and the immune-kynurenine pathway in the etiology of depression. Current Neuropharmacology, 2016, 14 665-73