How does breathing affect your pelvic floor?
The act of breathing seems so simple since it’s a practice we’ve all experienced since birth. Even when you’re not paying attention, you draw air into your lungs automatically and rhythmically. Your diaphragm contracts down into your abdomen, which creates a domino effect of expansion around your core and pelvic floor muscles.
At rest, your pelvic floor muscles should stretch downward as you take a breath in. Exhaling is done passively and your pelvic floor muscles spring back to their starting position.
What predisposes our core and pelvic floor to injury?
A combination of our genetics, history, and habits dictate how well our soft-tissue structures counteract the forces placed on them during the act of breathing or bearing down. The weakest link among our core system will appear as:
What can you do to help reduce your risk of pelvic floor injury?
Breathing is automatic, but we can control the rate, rhythm, and depth of breathing for a short period of time when we pay attention. By training our breath, we can adjust the amount of stress and strain our pelvic floor has to endure.
Your pelvic floor is composed of several muscles that you can visualize as a hammock supporting your internal organs. Imagine leaving your hammock outdoors, unprotected against the elements, and at the mercy of children jumping, twisting, and stretching the material. Eventually, the hammock will no longer hold you up from the ground and you’ll fall through!
How do you take the load off the pelvic floor?
You can begin by learning how to use breathing as a tool to reduce load during various functional activities. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may have to start training your pelvic floor in a position where gravity can assist you, like lying on your back with a pillow under your hips.
Then progress to working against gravity in a semi-reclined or sitting position. Finally, coordinate your core muscles by working through transitional movements such as getting out of bed, or getting up from a seat.
Ultimately, you want your pelvic floor muscles to operate quickly and automatically for activities that don’t give you a lot of time to think first, such as sneezing, coughing, or jumping unexpectedly to catch your child from falling down.
Get rid of bad breathing habits!
You should master the art of breathing through specific motions without adding unnecessary intra-abdominal pressure or the use of accessory muscles with your core and pelvic floor.
If you still have to think about breathing during a squat or getting up from a chair, maybe you should take a few steps back and build your foundation first.
Again, taking a breath in should expand your abdominal cavity in all directions spherically. If one area is tight, the forces created by increased intra-abdominal pressure will look for an area that offers the least resistance. And over time, that weakened area will fail.
Our pelvic floor physical therapists can teach you which breathing exercises are best to use with specific core and pelvic floor dysfunctions. And learn how to use your pelvic floor muscle as part of a team of muscles to help you breathe efficiently and not make your pelvic floor work overtime.