The secret’s out: Stress is a major contributing factor to pelvic-floor complaints in women and men.
Chronic stress can cause the sling of muscles that support the organs in the pelvis — including the bladder, the bowels, and, in women, the uterus — to clench. In time, these too-tight muscles weaken, which can lead to incontinence as well as discomfort or pain during exercise, urination, bowel movements, and sexual intercourse.
Symptoms of physical dysfunction may be accompanied by embarrassment and shame, which can increase stress and worsen the problem.
You can relieve sporadic or mild symptoms, such as periodic incontinence or discomfort, by adopting a daily regimen of diaphragmatic breathing and core and glute exercises, says Erika Mundinger, DPT, a Minneapolis-based physical therapist who specializes in pelvic and spine treatment. (She’s also the creator of a pelvic-floor workshop, “No Pee in PR,” geared toward athletes.)
For pain or more severe symptoms, Mundinger recommends consulting with a pelvic-floor specialist for a formal diagnosis and treatment plan.
While it may be tempting to skip, the mindful-breathing technique in the circuit below is worth practicing, she says.
“Much dysfunction in the pelvic floor is related to muscles that are both tight and weak,” she explains. Tightness makes it difficult to develop strength, making it imperative to relax first.
Perform this routine three to five times per week, completing all reps of each exercise before moving on to the next. Rest for one minute at the end and repeat for a total of three rounds.