Muscles in the pelvic floor, also known as the perineum, support the uterus, bladder, and bowels. These muscles extend across the pelvic region, below other muscles that give humans the ability to walk upright.
The pelvic floor muscles provide a bowl-shaped, cradle-like support for these important organs that are fit tightly inside the pelvic bone area. In the birthing process, these muscles wrap around the child’s head to guide it through the birth canal.
The following muscles are the main components of the pelvic floor:
- Levator ani: This muscle is the dominant muscle of the pelvic floor, and it functions in tandem with the rectum to aid in defecation. This is also the major muscle that helps the mother to “push” during childbirth.
- Transverse perineal muscle: This muscle stretches laterally across the vagina.
- Bulbocavernous muscle: This muscle circles the vagina — specifically the vestibular bulb — and connects to the external anal sphincter muscle, which then connects to the tailbone. It aids in erecting the clitoris and contracts during orgasm.
- Ischiocavernosus muscle: This muscle keeps the vagina tense and helps flex anus muscles.
The pelvic floor muscles are relatively thin and under constant use, so it is important to keep them healthy to prevent serious problems.
Problems with these muscles can lead to incontinence and other bladder and anus issues. The most common treatment for these is Kegel exercises, or regular contraction of the pelvic floor muscles.
Pregnant women and women who have recently given birth are often told to do Kegel exercises to help tone their pelvic floors. These exercises can help pregnant women, by keeping the muscles strong and flexible, to make birthing easier. For postpartum women, strengthening the pelvic floor can help with incontinence issues and help avoid future problems such as a prolapsed bladder, rectum, or uterus. Prolapse means the organ has slipped out of its proper place.
Some women also do Kegel exercises to increase sensitivity during sexual activity and to help with problems achieving orgasm.