HCA Midwest Health - May 09, 2022

Bladder and bowel changes negatively impact an estimated 24% of adults in the U.S. These changes can affect your quality of life and cause lower back pain, constipation, incontinence, and hemorrhoids. Individuals often don't know who to talk to about these, and you don't have to suffer in silence.

What is your pelvic floor and why you should care?

Each of us has a pelvic floor made of three layers of muscles located at the bottom of our abdomens. While male and female pelvic floor muscles may function differently, they make up the foundation of your pelvis and play a significant role in your body's natural functions, such as digestion and movement.

These muscles support your reproductive organs and control bowel movements, urination, and sexual function. Ordinary life experiences include aging, stress, childbearing/childbirth, and heavy lifting can all impact your pelvic floor. Additional damage can occur from cancer treatments such as surgery, radiation and hormone changes. Each of the experiences can affect your pelvic floor muscles and cause sagging, weakness, and tightness. The traumas can result in pain, constipation, and incontinence-leading to frustration and embarrassment.

Wellness strategies may help to improve how these muscles function and improve some of the side effects you may be experiencing.

Try these simple daily habits for optimizing pelvic floor health:

Drink water. Try drinking half of your body weight in ounces each day. Avoid artificial sweeteners and too much caffeine, as these can cause both constipation and incontinence!

Get enough fiber. Eat fruits and vegetables instead of processed foods to get your recommended amount of fiber each day. Fiber and good hydration help with regular and easy bowel movements.

Toilet tips. Avoid hovering. Make sure you sit fully on the toilet and have your feet elevated and wide on a stool, like a Squatty Potty®. Sit upright, breathing deeply into your belly. Although reading on the toilet is expected, try to not hunch over or spend much time on the toilet.

Allow your bladder to entirely empty–don't be in a rush!

Do not strain for a bowel movement. Straining can lead to hemorrhoids and the pelvic floor and internal organs' sagging.

A planned exercise regimen including weekly aerobic, strengthening, and mobility exercises are beneficial. Here are some ideas:

Aerobic activities like walking, cycling, and swimming. When walking, use those arms. Increase arm swing to help rotate your middle. Trunk rotation encourages digestion. When you get short of air, try to breathe deeply into your belly rather than breathing higher into your chest.

If you use a walker for safety-try rotating your torso when seated in a chair rather than when walking. The walker keeps you safe but doesn't allow for much twisting when you walk, which can add to bowel constipation.

Strength training like lifting weights and your own body weight. You should include arms, legs, and core exercises. Try squatting with your feet wide and using your core/buttocks to lift you up, causing you to engage the pelvic floor. You can hold on to the kitchen counter for balance, and it helps make sure you can get back up.

Mobility stretches for your hips and back to help relax muscles and allow for better movement with less pain. Try a yoga class for a mix of mindfulness and mobility. You can go to a studio or check out a YouTube channel. Find something that looks like your level. Yoga classes range from seated in a chair to advanced poses like headstands. We recommend starting with a beginner class and working your way up.

Practicing mindfulness is being aware of your body. Take time to relax and practice self-care. Here are some ideas:

  • Total body relaxation can reduce pain.
  • Practice deep breathing into your belly to help relax your shoulders and reduce whole-body pain.
  • Consider getting a full body massage. If you are not comfortable with full-body, start with an area like the neck or shoulders to reduce stress and pain.

Want more specific pelvic floor training?

If your pelvic floor is painful, leaky, saggy, or causing frustrations, ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a pelvic floor therapist.

A pelvic floor therapist has specialized training in the pelvic floor, low back, and hip anatomy and function. They are trained in performing internal and external assessments. They provide treatments to improve pelvic floor function, enhancing your physical and mental quality of life.

Things a pelvic floor therapist can help with:

  • Reduce bowel and bladder incontinence.
  • Normalize toileting habits and bowel movements.
  • Improve sexual function.
  • Reduce pain in the pelvic floor.
  • Improve hip and low back mobility.

These individualized sessions with a physical or occupational therapist will evaluate your pelvic floor as part of your whole body and address your concerns.

Try one or more of these tips to improve your wellness today! Reach out to the wellness team directly for more individual guidance at cancerwellness@hcamidwest.com.

The comprehensive wellness program at the Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at HCA Midwest Health is the only program of its kind in the greater Kansas City area. The free program offers personalized guidance, access to wellness resources and connection with supportive care.  For more info, visit Cancer Wellness in Kansas City.