Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI on December 1, 2017Written by Kiara Anthony on December 1, 2017

What is pelvic floor dysfunction?

Pelvic floor dysfunction is the inability to control the muscles of your pelvic floor.

Your pelvic floor is the group of muscles and ligaments in your pelvic region. The pelvic floor acts like a sling to support the organs in your pelvis — including the bladder, rectum, and uterus or prostate. Contracting and relaxing these muscles allows you to control your bowel movements, urination, and, for women particularly, sexual intercourse.

Pelvic floor dysfunction forces you to contract your muscles rather than relax them. As a result, you may experience difficulty having a bowel movement.

If left untreated, pelvic floor dysfunction can lead to discomfort, long-term colon damage, or infection.

Pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms

There are a number of symptoms associated with pelvic floor dysfunction. If you are diagnosed with pelvic floor dysfunction, you may experience symptoms including:

What causes pelvic floor dysfunction?

While exact causes are still being researched, doctors can link pelvic floor dysfunction to conditions or events that weaken the pelvic muscles or tear connective tissue:

Diagnosis

It’s important not to self-diagnose your symptoms because they may indicate more serious conditions.

To make a diagnosis, your doctor will review your medical history and observe your symptoms. After the initial consultation, your doctor will perform a physical evaluation to check for muscle spasms or knots. They will also check for muscle weakness.

To check for pelvic muscle control and pelvic muscle contractions, your doctor may perform an internal exam by placing a perineometer — a small, sensing device — into your rectum or vagina.

A less invasive option involves placing electrodes on your perineum, the area between the scrotum and anus or vagina and anus, to determine if you can contract and relax pelvic muscles.

Treating pelvic floor dysfunction

The goal for treating pelvic floor dysfunction is to relax the pelvic floor muscles to make bowel movements easier and to provide more control.

Kegel exercises, or similar techniques that require you to contract your muscles, will not help this condition. While surgery is an option, there are less invasive treatment options available.

A common treatment for this condition is biofeedback. This technique allows your therapist to monitor how you relax or contract your pelvic muscles through special sensors. After observing your muscle activity, your therapist will tell you how to improve your coordination.

Other treatment options include:

  • Medication. Your doctor may prescribe a muscle relaxant to help with pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms. The relaxants can prevent your muscles from contracting.
  • Self-care. To reduce strain on your pelvic floor muscles, avoid pushing or straining when using the bathroom. Relaxation techniques such as yoga and stretching can also help to relax your pelvic floor muscles. Taking warm baths is another useful technique. Warm water improves blood circulation and relaxes the muscles.
  • Surgery. If your pelvic floor dysfunction is the result of a rectal prolapse — a condition that causes the rectal tissue to fall into the anal opening — surgery will loosen the affected pelvic organs and cause them to relax.

Outlook

Although embarrassing or sometimes painful, pelvic floor dysfunction is a highly treatable condition. Talk with your doctor about your symptoms to get a proper diagnosis. There are several home remedies you can try before resorting to medication or surgery for treatment.

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