Your pelvic floor: What is it? How is it important to your health?

Women's Health part1: Pelvic Floor Health

SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - March is National Women’s Month and KSLA News 12 is digging deeper into issues plaguing women.

WEB EXTRA: Kegel exercise isn’t always the answer when it comes to pelvic floor health

We’re starting the conversation to help keep you healthy and active for years to come by shining the light on a topic that might be difficult to discuss not just with your doctor, but with your friends.

Whether we’re too scared to sneeze or shy away from physical activity, issues with the pelvic floor can cause discomfort in our lives.

“It can affect personal relationships; people feel unhygienic," explained pelvic rehabilitation practitioner and certified physical therapist Melanie Massey.

Melanie Massey is a pelvic floor certified practitioner, one of the first in Louisiana. She sees patients from as far as Texas and Mississippi.
Melanie Massey is a pelvic floor certified practitioner, one of the first in Louisiana. She sees patients from as far as Texas and Mississippi.

But "... it’s a problem that is very often quite easily solved.”

In order to fix the problem, we first need to understand it.

“Put your hands on your hips. The wings that flare out, that is your pelvis,” Massey said. "(And) some people don’t realize that that pelvis actually comes around and meets in the front, bony wise, and meets in the front. And that’s your pubic bone (where it comes together). There’s a lot of your pelvic floor muscles that are attached there in the front, and it also goes around to the back and attaches to your lower spine.”

The hammock-like structure is called the pelvic floor. It supports not only our pelvic organs, like the bladder and the uterus, but the base of our spine.

“It’s a very vital part of our bodies that is often neglected overlooked quite frankly ignored,” Massey said.

Which is where Melanie Massey and her team of physical therapists come in.

Massey is a pelvic floor certified practitioner, one of the first in Louisiana.

“We are not designed to leak; we’re designed very specifically. We’re designed perfectly, our elimination system is meant to work perfectly, digestion goes in and comes out, everything is meant to work perfectly.”

Yet nearly 1 in 4 women struggle with pelvic floor disorders, which include urinary incontinence, constipation and more.

Although postpartum and pregnant women make up a significant part of the population, it's far too common for those who've not experienced childbirth.

"People tend to hold tension in different places," Massey explained, "A lot of these women who are cross fitting, driven in their careers and are just ambitious, they are the ones that we're seeing the leaking and it's usually because their muscles are too short."

So what does this mean?

"Consider a parking garage, (uses hands) this is the fourth floor, this is where highest contraction is, the top of our pelvic floor. So we want you to squeeze up and come back down to the basement, that's a good contraction. I need you to lift it up squeeze and come back down all the way, however, if you're already resting at the third-floor and I say squeeze, so you're fixing to do a jumping jack, that contraction is not nearly as effective as a full contraction."

Pelvic floor therapists are trained in working with just that, the pelvic floor muscles.

The therapy has a high cure rate.

“A lot of times, they come back after the evaluation and they’re already 50 percent better just because of education. That’s probably the biggest part but we do is education alone,” physical therapy assistant Kourtney Salter said.

But because it’s unseen and misunderstood, women are left feeling embarrassed and alone and may not want to talk about it.

Melanie Massey and members of her team discuss pelvic floor health and why it's important to talk about it with KSLA News 12's Marie Waxel at their clinic in West Monroe.
Melanie Massey and members of her team discuss pelvic floor health and why it's important to talk about it with KSLA News 12's Marie Waxel at their clinic in West Monroe.

“The more we bring awareness to it, the more mainstream it becomes, the easier it’s going to be for people to come get treatment and to resolve these issues that really have been plaguing them for a long time,” said Salter.

Guess what, pelvic floor therapists also treat everybody else.

That’s right, everybody from women to men, pediatrics to geriatrics. These same issues can be found across the board, regardless of age and gender.

“Everybody has a pelvic ring that we talked about before; everyone is going to have a pelvic floor. So 100 percent of humans have a pelvic floor supporting the organs,” said Massey.

Bottom line, we need to be more proactive when it comes to addressing pelvic floor health. There are things you can do to improve whatever may be wrong. It’s up to us not to be afraid to get help. Start the conversation.

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