Mend Physical Therapy Blog and Injury Information

5 Things Every Athlete Should Know About The Pelvic Floor

February 7, 2023

By now, you’ve probably heard of the “pelvic floor” as it is becoming a household term, but are you aware of how vital the pelvic floor is for our athletic success?

The pelvic floor is the name given to the group of muscles, ligaments, fascia, and nerves that live in and around the bony pelvis. These tissues are essential in some of the most important functions in the body including support of organs, stability of the spine, hips and pelvis, continence and passing of waste, sexual function, and assisting with blood and lymphatic flow. To learn more about pelvic floor function and dysfunction, click here, but we’ll dive more into what we should know about our pelvic floor as athletes:

  1. The pelvic floor is often overactive in athletes: When certain symptoms appear such as urinary leaking, many people think the pelvic floor muscles are weak. It is more likely however, that in our athletic population the pelvic floor muscles are hypertonic, or tight. This contributes to overactivity and fatigue of the muscles which leads to impaired muscle function. For example, as the sphincter muscle is called upon to close the urethra during an impact activity, it is too fatigued to effectively contract and thus urine is able to leak through.

  2. The pelvic floor is a vital part of the “core:” When we think of the core, we often think of the abdominal muscles. But the core is much more than just that. The core is a network of muscles that are situated like a canister in our trunk; these include the deepest abdominal muscle called the transverse abdominis, the posterior spinal muscles called the multifidus, the diaphragm at the top of the canister, and the pelvic floor muscles at the bottom of the canister. Without acknowledging the pelvic floor we are missing a key component of stability and strength.

  3. Kegels are not always the answer: We too often hear patients prescribed “kegels” for pelvic floor symptoms, when this can actually be perpetuating or worsening the problem, not fixing it. As mentioned above, the pelvic floor is typically overactive or too tight, not just weak. When a muscle is tight, it is insufficient; every skeletal muscle wants to live in a specific length-tension relationship, it needs enough length to generate the proper amount of tension. If kegels are prescribed for an already short (or tight) pelvic floor muscle, the tension worsens and therefore so do symptoms.

  4. Pelvic floor muscles do not work in isolation: As we mentioned, the pelvic floor is in integral part of the core, but further, these muscles also work closely with our hips and spine. If the athlete is dealing with persistent pain or chronic injury to the hips, low back, or groin and has failed other typical treatments, it’s time to get a pelvic floor muscle assessment.

  5. Pelvic floor and breathing are connected: Remember the analogy of the canister? The pelvic floor and diaphragm are the top and the bottom components and work together in a piston-like motion with every breath. If you are improperly breathing or holding your breath during tasks like weight lifting or jumping, intraabdominal pressure is building and putting unnecessary pressure on the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles. This can contribute to symptoms such as instability, pain, and leaking.

Click here to learn more about our pelvic floor specialists in Boulder and Lafayette.