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Let’s talk basics: what is the pelvic floor?

The pelvic floor is the name of the muscles on the bottom of your pelvis. These muscles are responsible for the control of your bladder and bowel and have a crucial role in sexual function.

While in a male-designated body (at birth), these muscles are important for sexual arousal, erections and ejaculation, in a female-designated body (at birth), the pelvic floor contributes to sexual arousal. It assists the birth process and labour and supports the baby during pregnancy. In both genres, the pelvic floor muscles have been also linked to orgasm.

The pelvic floor is like a bowl that supports the pelvic organs that are in your pelvic cavity (bladder and rectum and, depending on your anatomy, uterus and vaginal canal or penis and prostate). In normal conditions, when the coordination is ideal, when these muscles relax, they allow urination, bowel movements and, in women, intercourse. When they contract, they close the urethra and the anus, controlling, therefore, the emptying of urine and faeces.

Anatomically, the pelvic floor can be divided into two layers of muscles: the superficial and the deeper layers. Pelvic floor dysfunctions can result from weakness, activity or lack of coordination of these muscles, as well as trauma that can result from birth but also as a side effect of some surgeries that can affect the local tissues or the muscles, ligaments, nerves and body systems that interact with this region. Due to this multi-factorial nature of pelvic floor dysfunctions, Kegels and strengthening pelvic floor exercises may not be the best intervention for your pelvic floor condition.

Rule of thumb: When in doubt, find a physiotherapist!

Physiotherapists who are trained in women’s health to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal issues associated with pregnancy, birth, postpartum, breastfeeding and menopause. They specialise in treating pelvic floor muscle issues and pelvic pain. While in some cases your pelvic floor muscles may need to be strengthened, often the strength in itself isn’t our main concern.

Your pelvic floor muscles may be lacking control and coordination, and/or they may be overactive. This isn’t easy to see only via symptoms because they can be similar to those with weaker pelvic floor muscles. The treatment for these conditions should widely differ. Hence, your physiotherapist must check your pelvic floor to verify your needs.

Additionally, it is important to mention that the pelvic floor is part of a group of muscles that involves the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles and compounds the unit we call the core. Therefore, the pelvic floor should be evaluated together with the other structures.

The core activation can also be affected by the other muscles and other body systems such as the digestive system, lymphatic and cardiopulmonary systems. Hence, it is important to be evaluated by a physiotherapist. Moreover, the rehab process of the pelvic floor musculature often has to be adjunct to some lifestyle changes to improve and accelerate results, so while your symptoms may range from urinary, bowel or sexual, your condition may improve with additional dietary, habit changes and pain/stress management strategies.

To sum up, your pelvic floor is the name we give to the group of muscles that are located at the bottom of your abdomen and are responsible for functions such as control of your sphincters and sexual function as well as support of organs. Due to its close relationship to the core and viscera and surrounding musculoskeletal structures, habits and diet must be considered regarding pelvic floor dysfunction.

Common pelvic floor symptoms include:

  • Leaking while coughing, laughing or during activities
  • Urinary urgency, frequency, hesitancy or incomplete emptying of the bladder
  • Frequent need to urinate or painful urination
  • Ongoing pain in your pelvic floor region, genitals, or rectum
  • Feeling heaviness or pain in the vaginal region
  • Other causes cannot explain pain in your lower back
  • Pain during intercourse or decreased pelvic floor sensitivity post-labour
  • Feeling that you have several bowel movements during a short period or cannot complete a bowel movement
  • Constipation or straining pain with bowel movements


Our physiotherapists are trained and experienced professionals passionate about continence and women’s health. They are skilled physiotherapists who love helping people experience their best possible pregnancy, birth and early motherhood. Get in touch to make an appointment today.

*All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Physionorth can consult you to confirm if this advice is right for you.

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