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We know the last thing you need this January is another New Year's Resolution. But we couldn't let the calendar change without a few suggestions for pelvic health. Any one of these suggestions can have life-long benefit for your pelvic health, and they only take a few minutes to try out.
Practice Deep Breathing
Something as simple as how we breathe can have a major impact on the pelvic floor. Nearly all of us are in the bad habit of chest-breathing. When we breath in, only our chest moves – the belly stays sucked in.
While this may look better in photos, it’s terrible for the body.We naturally associate these short, shallow breaths with stressful situations, so chest breathing activates our fight-or-flight instinct. It can make it difficult to fall asleep at night, and doesn’t allow the lower abdomen to expand and stretch.
Instead, practice by lying flat on the floor. Gently put your hand on your stomach, and take a deep breath in. Feel the belly rise, and the chest barely move. You may feel a stretch here across your lower abdomen – that’s good!
This kind of breathing tells the body it’s safe, reducing stress. It stretches the lower abdomen and relaxes the pelvic floor. You can practice this deep breathing throughout the day (while sitting or standing) for a quick bit of relaxation. Try it in the car on the way to work – eventually it will become more of a habit, naturally relaxing the body and nervous system all day long.
Act like a Happy Baby
The single best stretch for the pelvic floor, Happy Baby directly targets those muscles and helps them to relax. Spending just a few minutes a day in this position, practicing your deep breathing, can make a big difference for pelvic health.
Many of our patients see nearly immediate pain or symptom relief with this stretch, and incorporating it into your daily stretching routine can have life-long benefits for your pelvic health.
Try the Squatty Potty
It’s not elegant, but throughout all of human history, our ancestors squatted when they felt the call of nature. Our bodies evolved for this position, which naturally relaxes the pelvic floor muscles and straightens the colon, making it much easier to eliminate waste.
While it’s one of modern life’s great conveniences that we no longer have to go searching for a convenient bush, sitting on a toilet seat does have drawbacks. It makes it more difficult for those pelvic floor muscles to relax, and puts a kink in the colon that makes elimination more difficult.
The Squatty Potty gives us the best of both worlds – the positional benefits of squatting with the convenience of modern plumbing. By raising the knees up above the pelvis, it relaxes the pelvic floor muscles and makes pooping a lot easier. Get yours HERE.
Personal Lubricant in the Nightstand
More than 40% of women struggle with painful intercourse – it’s another pelvic issue that is common, but certainly not normal. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a natural part of aging.
Sometimes this can be due to a lack of lubrication, either due to changes in hormone levels or other reasons. A simple solution can be to have a bottle of personal lubricant on hand. We often recommend Slippery Stuff (water-based), UberLube (silicone-based), or Yes Oil-Based. Just remember, condoms won't always work (they become more porous) with an oil-based lubricant!
If intercourse is painful with or without the lubricant, it can be a sign of underlying pelvic floor dysfunction, and you may want to see a pelvic floor physical therapist to determine if trigger points in the pelvic muscles are the cause of your pain and symptoms. If you suspect a hormonal change contributing to a lack of lubrication (common during, before, or after menopause), consult your gynecologist. If sex is suddenly painful, make sure you consult your physician or gynecologist to rule out infection or STIs.
Our final recommendation for pelvic health in the new year is simply to be aware of the pelvis and all of it’s functions. The pelvic floor is responsible for 1) controlling peeing and pooping, 2) sexual activity, and 3) helping to stabilize the lower back, hips, and groin.
Just doing a quick self-scan can identify potential issues before they get larger, which makes treating them much easier. Are you urinating the normal 4-6 times per day, or are you much higher than that? Do you have to strain to have a bowel movement or feel constipated regularly? Any pain or dysfunction with intercourse? Do you have any pain in your lower back, hips, groin, or tailbone?
If the answer to any of these is ‘yes’, it may be a good time to get checked out by a pelvic floor physical therapist to improve the symptoms and make sure they don’t snowball into a more serious problem.
Dr. Nicole Cozean is the founder of PelvicSanity physical therapy, Orange County's premier pelvic floor physical therapy clinic. One of only 270 PTs to be board-certified in the pelvic floor, and the first PT to serve on the ICA Board of Directors, Nicole is the author of the acclaimed and best-selling book The Interstitial Cystitis Solution (2016). She is an adjunct professor at her alma mater, Chapman University. The PelvicSanity blog focuses on presenting practical, positive information to help patients beyond the walls of Nicole's clinic.