Unlocking the secrets to pelvic health: Understanding your body's core

When you first hear the term "core strength," you might think of toned abdominal muscles. While strong abdominals are important, have you considered what supports your entire core structure? The answer is pelvic health.

According to Baylor College of Medicine, the term refers to the function and management of the bladder, bowel, and reproductive organs. It also includes the pelvic floor—a group of muscles that form a hammock-like sling across the pelvis.

Continue reading to look at why pelvic health matters and issues that can arise from reduced function.

Pelvic pain and dysfunction

When there are issues with the pelvic muscles and the connective tissue throughout the pelvic region, that is called a pelvic floor disorder. The most common types of dysfunctions are:

  • Pelvic organ This happens in women when the pelvic muscles and tissue cannot support one or more pelvic organs. This includes the bladder, uterus, cervix, and intestines. When this happens, organs may "drop" downward, causing dysfunction.
  • Bladder difficulties. For men and women, a pelvic floor disorder can lead to urinary incontinence or problems like urinating too often during the day or throughout the night.
  • Bowel control issues. Like bladder challenges, women and men can experience fecal incontinence because of pelvic floor dysfunction. This tends to result from damage to the anal sphincter, which is part of pelvic health.
  • Chronic pain. Difficulties in the pelvic region can lead to a range of pain issues that can include irritable bowel syndrome, musculoskeletal pelvic floor pain, uterine pain disorders, and nerve damage that alternates between numbness and pain.

These problems can be temporary or become chronic and worsen over time, particularly if they go unaddressed. Like any medical condition, they can increase the risk of a ripple effect. For example, one organ may be affected by prolapse, but other organs can also be affected if it is not treated.

Mental health connection

How well your pelvic organs function can be significant when it comes to quality of life. For example, research in BMJ (British Medical Journal) Case Reports notes that a variety of psychiatric disorders, including depression, have been reported in patients suffering from incontinence.

Another study in BMC Public Health found a strong connection between depression and incontinence. Researchers wrote, "Mental health is an important part of human health. Wellness means not only the absence of disease or disability but also physical, mental, and social health." Because of this, they urged doctors to consider the emotional ramifications of incontinence when making treatment decisions.

Pelvic dysfunction can also affect sexual function, and that can have an impact on quality of life as well, according to research. That can lead to low libido, difficulty with arousal, and depression and anxiety.

Maintaining pelvic health

Some challenges related to pelvic function are not within someone's direct control—for example, having a baby or undergoing treatment for prostate cancer can affect pelvic health. But even in these instances, pelvic floor muscle exercises can help reduce issues like urinary incontinence and chronic pain. Here are some general tips for pelvic health, whether you have a degree of dysfunction or want to improve pelvic function overall:

  • Maintain a healthy weight since extra weight can strain and weaken pelvic floor muscles.
  • Eat a fiber-rich diet; constipation can negatively impact pelvic floor muscles.
  • Lift with care; improperly lifting heavy objects can put added stress on pelvic floor muscles.
  • Practice good posture to reduce pressure on the pelvic region.
  • Learn to do Kegel exercises, which can help strengthen pelvic floor muscles.

Keep in mind that if you are experiencing any pelvic health difficulties, it is important to talk to your doctor so you can pinpoint the source of your issues and put together a treatment and rehabilitation plan that can help boost your core strength and function.

Learn more about our women’s health portfolio and stay connected with Mass General Brigham Health Plan by following @MGBHealthPlan on InstagramLinkedIn, and Facebook.

Back to Blog