Written by Sarah Berry - The Sydney Morning Herald. We're strengthening certain muscles when we workout, we may be inadvertently weakening others, causing a common problem to many women. Intense exercise is one of the primary factors that makes urinary incontinence more common among women, affecting one in eight teenage girls and as many as one in three women. When forgotten, the pelvic floor can cause embarrassing problems. In fact, one new study found that urinary incontinence is three times more common among female athletes. Why? Because "intensity of exercise and non-awareness of what they're doing to their bodies", leads to strain, weakening pelvic floor muscles, says Jenny Rivett of the Victorian Continence Resource Centre (VCRC).
"They're looking after everything else and forgetting that part of their core is the pelvic floor as well and they forgetting to look after those muscles," Rivett adds. "It's like any other muscle group – your pelvic floor needs to be looked after." The pelvic floor muscles, which are like a trampoline supporting the organs in our pelvis, control our bladder and bowels and help to keep the vagina and uterus in place. When pelvic floor muscles are weak, a little or a lot of urine can leak when we cough, sneeze, laugh, jump or exercise. The stereotype is that it is an older person's problem (and it is true that it is more prevalent in the elderly as well as women who have given birth or been through menopause) but, that is not the case. "This is a problem area for teen girls," says associate professor Nicole Wragg, from Swinburne, who co-created a new awareness campaign, Go Against the Flow. The campaign, by the VCRC and Swinburne University of Technology, is designed to raise awareness about the prevalence of bladder leakage in young women and the importance of maintaining pelvic floor muscles.
Over the course of three years while creating the campaign, Wragg held workshops with 15 to 19-year-old girls to find out how much they understood about the pelvic floor and its function. "It was interesting how unaware they were of even a thing called pelvic floor," Wragg says. "If they knew about pelvic floor they thought it was just something to do with older people. When they did know, there was negative associations – 'why would you talk about that, ew yuk'."
Such stigma means that 70 per cent of those with urinary leakage do not seek advice and treatment for their problem. Rather, Wragg found among girls, "Dr Google is No. 1". She hopes the campaign will start the conversation and reduce stigma. "It shouldn't be hidden," Wragg says. Rivett adds that although it is a common problem, it is "not normal". The VCRC provides suggestions for simple exercises to help strengthen the area, but Rivett says that being able to relax the muscles is as important as being able to switch them on. "There's been a lot of work in the space of strengthening, but you can go down the other line of going a bit too tight," she says. When the pelvic floor muscles are too tight, it can make it difficult to go to the loo, it can make sex difficult and cause pain in the area. If, after working on the muscles, the symptoms remain, Rivett promises it's a problem people don't have to live with. "There is help and they don't have to put up with it."
A Movement Intelligence perspective: Written by Carol Montgomery.
Muscles in the pelvic floor, like any other muscle need to contract and release. Many people forget about the complexities of the muscular and nervous systems and the beauty of how all the systems work together for the organism as a whole and therein, lies the brilliance of Movement Intelligence.
The sphincter muscles are very different. In general, these are round in nature and there are of two types: an external and an internal. With the anal and the vaginal external sphincters, they have 3 distinct layers (Deep, Superficial and Subcutaneous or close to the skin). When sphincters muscles contract, it is the roundness or circular direction of the muscles surrounding the hole that allow the hole to close and open, depending upon if it in an internal or an external sphincter. The sphincter muscles will contract, or not, because it is the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system telling them what to do.
For the most part, it is out of our volitional control and responds to other signals that come from the gut. The pelvic floor muscles on the other hand are controlled by peripheral nerves. These muscles are like our biceps of the arm or the quadriceps of the thigh. They can be strengthened or weakened by use, or no use, so the two muscle groups support one another to serve the overall well-being of a person. If one is stronger or weaker than the other, then it’s contribution will have an impact on the quality of the stool, urine that has to pass through it or, it can contribute to various other pain syndromes and degenerative changes in the spine or hip.
And of course, and most importantly for us as Movement Intelligence teachers, it can greatly influence the ease in simple but critical movements that involve overcoming gravity such as sit to stand, jumping, running, fast walking and pleasure in standing.
Jennifer Groves runs Sphincter workshops - if you would like to find out more and organise Jenny to teach in your area contact her on www.movement-intelligence.com.au +61 02 66 842 738