Do you suffer from constipation, frequent urinary tract infections, urinary incontinence, or pelvic pain? Poor habits in the bathroom may be the cause. These habits are so common place, most people don’t even realize they’re taking a toll on their pelvic health.
1. Pushing Instead of Just Relaxing
Let’s face it… it’s a luxury to just get to go to the bathroom, let alone have time to completely relax while doing it. Relaxing is important though. In order to fully empty your bladder or allow for a bowel movement, your pelvic floor muscles need to relax. If you are pushing instead of just relaxing, you are placing added stress on the muscles and ligaments that make up your pelvic floor. These muscles and ligaments form a sling to support the pelvic joints and organs. This added stress can eventually lead to issues like urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. Not sure if you’re relaxing? Try performing a pelvic floor muscle contraction and then allow those same muscles to completely relax. Check out this great video by Amanda Olson, pelvic floor physical therapist, to learn how.
2. Not Sitting on the Toilet Seat
I’ve been there… trying to see if I can successfully use an airport bathroom without directly touching anything. For those of you who frequent public restrooms, listen up. If you have mastered the art of hovering while peeing, congratulations, it’s easier said then done. Unfortunately, hovering doesn’t allow our pelvic floor muscles to relax and if you can’t relax you’ll find it more difficult to empty your bladder. Just like bad habit #1, hovering places additional stress on the muscles and supportive tissue.
3. Holding It
Who hasn’t held it at one point or another? The problem occurs when it becomes a habit. Holding your urine puts added stress on your bladder and pelvic floor muscles. Over time, it can lead to weakness and urinary incontinence. Healthy bladders should be able to hold urine for 2-5 hours.
4. Saving Some For Later
If you’re not holding it, then you may be saving some for later. This is what happens when you take the time to go to the bathroom but maybe not enough time to relax and fully empty your bladder. Although this strategy may buy you a bit of time until your next bathroom break, it can wreak havoc on your bladder. Failure to fully empty your bladder can lead to urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections.
5. Sitting at the Wrong Angle
Yes, you read it correctly. Who knew there was a optimal angle for defecating? It turns out that our anatomy is built to work best when our hips are bent more than 90 degrees (100 degrees to be exact). You’ll find an amusing and informative explanation in this short video by Squatty Potty.
How we treat our pelvic floor today can have consequences down the road. About 1/3 of women will eventually have some degree of pelvic organ prolapse. Prolapse occurs when one or more of the pelvic organs (bladder, uterus, rectum) drops into the vaginal wall. There are different degrees of prolapse. In severe cases, you might see or feel a bulge outside the vaginal opening. Symptoms may include:
• Pain or a feeling of heaviness in the pelvis, especially when standing or coughing
• Leaking urine
• Difficulty having a bowel movement
• Problems inserting a tampon
• Pain with sex
Pelvic organ prolapse can usually be diagnosed with a simple vaginal exam. Mild prolapse can often be treated with pelvic floor physical therapy. Moderate cases may require additional treatments such as the use of a pessary which can help to provide increased support to the vaginal wall. Surgery may be needed in severe cases.
As you can see, good pelvic floor muscle function is a delicate balance of strength and relaxation, something physical therapists call motor control. Any disruption in this balance can lead to an array of issues including pelvic organ prolapse, urinary or fecal incontinence, constipation, and pelvic pain. This delicate balance can also be effected by poor posture, altered breathing mechanics, and weakness in our core muscles- all common changes that occur during pregnancy and postpartum. This is why pregnancy is a major risk factor in developing pelvic floor dysfunction and why postpartum rehabilitation is so important.
If you are guilty of any of the habits mentioned above take heed. Taking simple steps to help promote good bowel and bladder function can go a long way in keeping your pelvic floor healthy and preventing some of the common disorders that come up after having a baby and later in life. If you think you might have a pelvic floor issue or struggle with any of the symptoms mentioned above, it’s a good idea to talk with your gynecologist or a pelvic floor physical therapist.