The pelvic floor is the group of muscles that help to attach the pubis to the sacrum in the pelvis. This important network of muscles perform a variety of important tasks, such as supporting vital organs like the bladder and the intestines. In women, the pelvic floor has the additional responsibility of supporting the vagina.
Along with providing a secure foundation for body organs, the pelvic floor also plays an important role in maintaining continence. Pelvic floor muscles help to regulate the function of both the urinary and the anal sphincters. When these muscles are damaged in some manner, pelvic floor dysfunction is often manifested first as incontinence, but can soon develop into more problematic issues, such as the descent of organs into the vagina. This condition, known as pelvic organ prolapse, can be extremely serious if not treated by a qualified physician.
This group of muscles also play an important role in the process of birth. The structure of the muscles is such that they can expand and contract to support the uterus and the rest of the female reproductive system as the child travels through the birth canal. Without the action of the pelvic floor, the process of birth would be much more complicated.
There are a number of factors that can lead to a failure of the pelvic area. Difficult childbirth can cause a collapse of the muscles and may require surgery to correct. Physical trauma to the area as a result of an accident can produce similar results. Unless the damage is corrected, the floor will be unable to support vital organs and will increase the possibility of additional organ failures.
Strenuous activity can also lead to dysfunction of the floor muscles. Pastimes like waterskiing, horseback riding, and mountain biking can over time create trauma that will weaken the muscles and finally cause them to fail. As with failure as a result of childbirth, the damage may require surgery to repair and allow the individual to resume normal activities.
In order to help strengthen the pelvic muscles and thus minimize the potential for damage during childbirth, accident, or even strenuous exercise or exertion, many physicians recommend the use of Kegel exercises. Sometimes referred to as pelvic floor exercise or PFE, these simple exercises can be done anywhere, and will significantly improve muscle tone in the pelvis. As a result, the muscles can withstand greater amounts of trauma without failing.