4 Pelvic Floor Mistakes You Could be Making Daily. (And How to Fix Them!)
Often when we think of things that cause pelvic floor issues (including incontinence, prolapse, pain etc), we think of pregnancy and childbirth, or some kind of injury.
However, there is a very good chance that during your day, there is something YOU are currently doing that is inhibiting your pelvic floor muscles' ability to work the way that they should. While this may not be a big deal if you do it once or twice, if you do it once every day, or perhaps once every hour, this cumulative effect over a decade or several can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction, even without any injury or pregnancies. You can easily start improving your pelvic health outcomes by addressing these very common habits.
These habits include: poor alignment while using your phone, the amount of sitting and stillness you have during your day, the effect of the positive heeled shoes you may be wearing, and the possibility that the stylish form fitting clothes you love may be impacting your pelvic floor health. You may find that you are guilty of all of these (I definitely have been on occasion), or maybe just 1 or 2, but being aware of them is the first step towards positive change! I hope these little fixes result in positive pelvic floor health for you in the long run.
1. Poor Alignment During Phone Use
We've all seen it (and almost definitely all done it), head forward and chin down, slouching and poorly aligned using our phones while sitting, standing and even walking. Not only is this posture rather harmful for the neck and shoulders, this lazy stance of the hips takes the pelvic floor muscles OUT of the plane that they can work in, effectively switching them off. See below.
Poor alignment when you are sitting (i.e. slouching into your chair at work, in the car, or on the couch) physically narrows the space in your pelvis by putting direct pressure onto your sacrum and tailbone (coccyx) and pushing these bones inwards (toward the pubic bone at the front). This requires the pelvic floor muscles to passively shorten, even though they are not contracting.
Spend enough time here and your body will adapt to this position over time by literally getting rid of the extra length and muscle fibres it doesn't use (a very clear case of USE it or LOSE it!), resulting in shortened, pelvic floor muscles, unable to function effectively.
Standing: get your weight back symmetrically over your heels and bring your phone higher up so that you don’t have to poke your head forward to see the screen.
Sitting: ensure that you keep your weight OFF your tailbone and ON your 'sit bones' (ischial tuberosities). This is easiest when you are sitting on a flat and firm surface (or even one angled down at the front), impossible when your chair slopes backwards.
2. Large Amounts of Daily Stillness & Sitting
Fixing posture is a great start and an essential one. Our bodies are constantly adapting to whatever we do the most - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, over a lifetime. Therefore, to be strong, healthy and functional, our pelvic floor muscles (and our entire body) require frequent movement in a variety of ways throughout the day to appropriately load and train the muscles. Unfortunately, just doing a set of pelvic floor exercises (Kegels) or doing a gym workout for 30-60 minutes, 3-4 times per week is not enough to offset the massive amounts of sitting that we tend to do as a culture. Do a quick survey of your daily movement habits. How much of your waking day do you spend sitting or being stationary?
Now divide your total number of hours by your awake hours (possibly 16-17hrs) to work out what percentage of your day you are likely still.
Where possible, take standing breaks (or even better, movement breaks) throughout your day, especially if you have a job that requires prolonged sitting. Our recommendation is to take a do a short 5 min walk every 30mins for the health of your entire body, AND your pelvic floor. Try taking walking meetings, printing at the farthest printer in the office (within reason) and even leaving the car at home when heading to the post office or grocery store.
3. Wearing Positive-Heeled Shoes
Good pelvic health starts from the ground up. We all know that wearing high heels aren't good for us (for our feet, knees, hips, spine etc.). But, did you know that for every degree of rise in your shoe (how much higher it is at the back than the front), there has to be an equal amount of compensation somewhere else in your body? This is true of a lot of exercise shoes and even men's dress shoes!
Most often this compensation results in bending at the knees, tucking the pelvis under and thrusting the ribs. The change in angle of the pelvis is the main culprit here - once the pelvis is out of neutral, the muscles are no longer able to respond to gravity and the loads being placed on it, so even if you are walking and moving, your pelvic floor muscles are not getting the full benefit. (Image credit: Rossi, W.A. 1999. Why Shoes Make 'Normal' Gait Impossible. Podiatry Management (March): 50-61)
Once again, the more time you spend in a positive-heeled shoe, the more your body will adapt to that position - increasing the tightness of your calf and hamstring muscles which will continue to pull your pelvis into that tucked under position, even after you have taken the shoes off.
This one is easy - try to swap out your higher heeled shoes for a lower heel, and gradually transition to a flat shoe. (Unshoes are some of my personal favourite minimal footwear) Sure, you can throw on your stilettos for a party or special occasion (and then probably take them off halfway through the night because your feet are sore), OR you can find a pair of glamorous flats that allow you to dance the night away. For men its very easy to take those favourite pairs of shoes and have the heels removed at a cobbler or shoe repair shop. My husband has taken this approach and its worked great for him.
Two men’s shoes - dress shoes with the heel removed and replaced, next to regular men’s boots. Its easy to see how this difference in elevation will affect your standing alignment!
4. Wearing Tight Fitting Clothing
External pressure and compression from clothing, particularly around the abdomen and waist can have a huge effect on the function of the pelvic floor muscles. In the same way that constantly tensing your stomach all day will increase the pressure in your abdomen, so too will tight jeans, skirts, abdominal binders and corsets. And when that pressure increases, the forces inside the abdomen will subject the pelvic organs and floor muscles to excessive downward movement, potentially leading to dysfunction and prolapse.
Personally I find that wearing clothing with a rigid or tight waistband will make me subconsciously contract my stomach to pull in and away from the material. And while I am definitely learning to be more okay with my stomach and my body, figure hugging clothes are going to encourage me to ‘suck in’ to hide my belly much more than flowing items.
On the Right - my true shape.
On the Left - my unhealthy habitual response when wearing a more fitted dress. Work in progress!
Fix It: Choose to wear clothing that allow you to move, breathe and release your belly freely! This may mean re-evaluating your clothing preferences and yes, perhaps size in the store, but what is the good in wearing something with a smaller number on the label if it means sacrificing your pelvic health?
Conclusion - Get Started!
There you have it! Four things you may be doing to harm your pelvic floor daily and how to easily fix them. You may not have even realised you were doing some of these, or perhaps you did without knowing that they were harmful. Either way, a little knowledge can go a long way towards changing these habits before they become a much bigger issue down the line.
Some may take more time than others to implement fully, but building up your awareness and understanding the impacts they can have is a huge step in the right direction. Little things like setting daily reminders for yourself to move more or use proper alignment when checking or typing your phone, and updating your shoes and wardrobe will pay big dividends for your pelvic floor in the long run! I really hope this was helpful and please get in touch via email or social media if you have any questions at all!