Women’s Health Week is finally here…so, ladies, are you taking care of yourself?
It’s a common theme that women across the globe rarely put themselves first, typically looking after everyone else’s needs before their own. However, how can you care for others if you do not care for yourself?
The topic of “women’s health” covers a multitude of conditions from the waist down. Some women have the belief that pelvic-related issues are a normal phenomenon, especially as we age. However, this is not the case and it is not something that should be put up with! The common denominator of women’s health conditions is a weak pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles that sit at the base of the pelvis and act as a heavy-duty sling supporting your bladder, bowel, and reproductive organs. When these muscles lose their endurance and strength, that sling cannot efficiently support those organs, and episodes of incontinence or prolapse may occur.
Incontinence – defined as the involuntary loss of urine from the bladder; faeces or wind from the bowel – is a common complaint (especially urinary incontinence) in women with pelvic floor problems. Urinary incontinence has three main subtypes: stress incontinence, urge incontinence, and mixed incontinence.
How do you know what subtype of incontinence you might be experiencing? The following descriptions can help:
- Stress incontinence is when urine involuntarily passes with coughing or sneezing, laughing, or jumping/running – i.e. when a high enough pressure is exerted through your lower torso and pelvis.
- Urge incontinence symptoms typically present as a continuous feeling that you need to empty your bladder. This is due to having an overactive bladder whereby the bladder spasms and sends signals to use the bathroom, even if it isn’t properly full.
- Mixed incontinence involves both stress and urge incontinence symptoms occurring.
Yes, I am currently experiencing one of the above, so what can I do about it?
Some easy tips you can start doing if you are experiencing any of the above:
- Avoid high-impact activities that involve running or jumping – mainly for those suffering from stress incontinence – until symptoms have resolved and your pelvic floor has regained its strength and endurance.
- Get the necessary muscles strong! The pelvic floor works with your deep core muscle (the transverse abdominis)… Pilates anyone? Studies have shown that when activating the transverse abdominis, the pelvic floor muscles are indirectly activated as well, and vice versa. Therefore, activities such as Pilates and yoga can help you strengthen your core and pelvic floor muscles and pave the way to a stronger pelvis!
- Pelvic Floor Exercises (PFEs) – all this talk of strengthening the pelvic floor but no idea how to engage them? Here’s how. The action is drawing your pelvic muscles up and in, so as to stop the flow of urine or to prevent passing wind. The best thing about these exercises is that they can be done anywhere. You should alternate between sustained holds and quick pulses. I advise my patients to aim for a solid 10 second hold a few times per day, alternating this with quick pulses of 10 repetitions at a time.
Besides incontinence, prolapse is another condition that women experience due to poor pelvic floor strength. If your pelvic floor muscles are extremely weak, there is the possibility that your pelvic organs can become displaced out of their normal position. The typical symptom women feel if this happens is a fullness or bulging in the vaginal canal. If you feel anything remotely like this, do not brush it aside, go straight to your doctor to be referred to a women’s health specialist!
Women’s Health Week Australia is happening now – September 2nd to the 6th. Ladies, do yourself a favor, and check out the event’s website to gain some really helpful and useful knowledge for YOUR health!
Some helpful resources you can explore are:
Women’s Health Week Website: https://www.womenshealthweek.com.au/
Jean Hailes for Women’s Health Organization: https://jeanhailes.org.au/
Continence Foundation of Australia: https://www.continence.org.au/
Pelvic Floor First: http://www.pelvicfloorfirst.org.au/
“National Public Toilet Map” App for your Android or iPhone – funded by the Australian Government Department of Health
Aoki, Yoshitaka et al. “Urinary incontinence in women.” Nature reviews. Disease primers vol. 3 17042. 6 Jul. 2017, doi:10.1038/nrdp.2017.42
Madokoro, Sachiko, and Hiroichi Miaki. “Relationship between transversus abdominis muscle thickness and urinary incontinence in females at 2 months postpartum.” Journal of physical therapy science vol. 31,1 (2019): 108-111. doi:10.1589/jpts.31.108
Raizada, Varuna, and Ravinder K Mittal. “Pelvic floor anatomy and applied physiology.” Gastroenterology clinics of North America vol. 37,3 (2008): 493-509, vii. doi:10.1016/j.gtc.2008.06.003