Updated: Aug 23, 2021
By Karah Charette, PT, DPT, RYT Co-Owner of Bodyful Physical Therapy & Wellness
In today’s culture, most people have a decent understanding of what a physical therapist is. We are medical professionals and movement experts, trained to skillfully assess and treat musculoskeletal pain and movement dysfunctions.
Within the field of physical therapy, there are specialists. Just like you see a dermatologist specifically for issues with the skin, or an OBGYN for sexual and reproductive health, you can see specific types of physical therapists for more focused care. One of these specialities is pelvic health physical therapy.
Also referred to as pelvic floor physical therapy, this area of care focuses on the muscles of your pelvis and the vital role they play in urinary, bowel, and sexual function. These muscles are also a key component of core stability and are therefore involved in many orthopedic issues including lower back and hip pain.
But what is the pelvic floor? If you were to look down into a pelvis, you would see at the base a series of muscles creating a “floor” or “bowl” that holds the contents of the pelvis including the rectum, bladder, and for some people the uterus. Because of these muscles’ relationship to these organs, if these muscles are not coordinated, symptoms of urinary urgency, frequency, incontinence, constipation, and pelvic pain can result.
Another important aspect of these muscles is understanding their relationship to our intra abdominal system (aka our “core”). Your core is not just those superficial six pack abs we are so often convinced to focus on via influencers and fitness instructors. Your true core is a complex container formed by our diaphragm, a deep abdominal muscle called the transverse abdominis, and our pelvic diaphragm (aka pelvic floor).
The word pelvic “diaphragm” is more appropriate here because it encompasses the dynamic role these muscles take on in the task of pressure management. Your intra abdominal system, when coordinated, can successfully manage and disperse pressure when taking on a load (i.e.; weight lifting, pushing a heavy door, etc…). If the key players of your core mentioned above become compromised through poor posture, inefficient muscle strategy, or fascial restrictions from something like scar tissue, then pressure often gets disproportionately placed on the pelvic diaphragm. This can be another major reason for the various types of pelvic floor dysfunction that I see as a physical therapist, including pelvic organ prolapse, incontinence, and pelvic pain.
So why should you care? Because EVERYONE has a pelvic floor! No matter your identity, these muscles exist for you and play arguably one of the most important roles for your overall musculoskeletal health because of their relationship to the core and pressure management. Whether you are having more straightforward symptoms of pelvic pain or incontinence, or more abstract symptoms that seem unrelated, consider having your pelvic floor assessed by a physical therapist.
Your body is powerful and capable of so much. To access that potential, you must be educated on every aspect, especially areas that are normally shamed and not talked about. The pelvis is the base for your spine and the pelvic floor is part of your core. Connecting to this area can not only relieve immediate symptoms, but can also provide a sustained sense of stability and groundedness in your body. As we continue to move forward in this chaotic world, I think we all deserve a deeper sense of rootedness within ourselves.