The pelvic floor muscles, although small, play very important roles in bowel, bladder, and sexual function, as well as providing stability for the pelvis and core. Often no thought is given to this muscle group until something goes embarrassingly or painfully wrong. Here are some very common bad habits to break to help keep those pelvic floor muscles healthy, happy and coordinated.
1.) Hovering over the toilet.
Yes, we all know that squatting is great for your legs and bum, but getting your leg day workout in while urinating is not the best time. When going to the bathroom, the pelvic floor muscles need to fully relax. This relaxation sends a signal to the bladder that it is ok to empty. When performing an active partial squat, all those tight quad and glute muscles activate the pelvic floor. So not only are the pelvic floor muscles not relaxed, but you are forced to push or bear down in order to urinate. This miscommunication between the bladder and pelvic floor muscles can lead to further lack of coordination and weakening of the pelvic floor later on down the road. So do your bladder and pelvic floor a favor and sit down. All the way.
2.) Don't go "just in case."
Although it seems convenient to go to the bathroom before leaving the house, what you are inadvertently doing is teaching your bladder to empty when it is not adequately full. The bladder is usually able to hold 15-19 oz of urine, with most people voiding 5-8 times within 24 hours. When you consciously urinate before leaving the house, before watching a movie, or before getting on a plane and it has been less than 2 hours between voids, the bladder is being retrained to empty when it is not full. Over time this can lead to the bladder being unable to stretch and expand to hold more urine when you need it to. The bladder may start sending the urge to empty more and more frequently if the volume capacity is decreased. This means that you may start having to urinate more and more frequently.
Another term for straining is "bearing down" or "pushing." If you feel that you frequently have to push or strain in order to initiate urination or a bowel movement, you may not be relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. Bearing down increases the pressure within the abdomen and pelvic floor. This strong downward force on the pelvic floor results in the muscles being overpowered and giving way under the strain in order to void. Continuous pushing against pelvic floor muscles that are contracted can result in poor coordination and weakening.
4.) Stop the flow of urine.
Although it is great to practice pelvic floor exercises, doing so when you are urinating is not ideal. As mentioned above, in order to urinate, the pelvic floor muscles should relax completely. This sends a signal to the bladder that it is ok to squeeze and empty itself of urine. When you contract the pelvic floor muscles and stop a stream of urine when using the bathroom, that can send a mixed signal to the bladder, causing dysfunction over time.
In short, try to relax the muscles of the pelvic floor when you go to the bathroom - taking deep calm breaths can help. Sit down on the toilet seat - yes, even a public toilet seat. Don't stop the flow of urine or stool once it has started passing. And try to eliminate going to the bathroom "just in case." The bladder is a very adaptable organ that can be trained into both good and bad habits. If you currently implement many of these habits in your daily life, know that they can successfully be corrected with just a bit of practice. If you find that you are unable to break some of these patterns - or if you are currently experiencing some dysfunctional bladder and pelvic floor issues - contact a pelvic floor physical therapist to help address your concerns.