When most people think of athletic injuries, they recall a professional football player’s torn ACL or basketball player’s bone break.  However, the pelvic floor, specifically in the female athletic population, may not be the first to come to mind. More and more, female athletes are experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction, including pelvic pain and urine leakage.

However, are they talking about these concerns with the right people, or people at all for that matter?

What is the Pelvic Floor?

The pelvic floor consists of three layers of muscles, fascia and ligaments that help support the pelvic organs, the bladder, as well as elements of the spine.  These muscles also form the inferior border of our “core.” They help contribute to the stabilization of the spine, pelvis and kinetic chain during functional movement, helping coordinate movement of the arms, legs and spine commonly seen in athletic competition.

Literature shows the highest prevalence of pelvic floor muscle dysfunction involves high impact activities, such as track and field, gymnastics and some ball games (Bo 2004). Activities such as jumping and running that occur with athletic participation place increased stress onto the pelvic floor. When these muscles, fascia and ligaments are negatively impacted, the female athlete can experience pain, weakness and dysfunction.

- Weakened pelvic floor muscles can lead to pain, bowel/bladder concerns (i.e., urine/fecal leakage), as well as decreased pelvic stability.

- One study compared female athletes in VB, handball, basketball to non-athletes. Study’s findings suggest perineal pressure is decreased in female athletes compared to non-athletes. A lower perineal pressure correlates with increased symptoms of urinary incontinence and pelvic floor muscle dysfunction (Borin et. al 2012)

Taking Care of the Pelvic Floor

It is imperative that women are aware of the importance in optimal pelvic floor health and function – and the need to contract and relax the muscles involved during athletic play or participation. Women can find their pelvic floor muscles by performing a muscle contraction, commonly known as a Kegel, using the muscles that would stop the flow of urine and/or prevent the pass of gas, then fully relaxing those muscles back to their start position. This can be incorporated when training, jumping, lifting, to help give adequate input and support to the region.

Questions About the Pelvic Floor and Dysfunction?

Being assessed by a specially trained women’s health clinician at ATI Women’s Health can help ensure proper pelvic floor muscle function. If dysfunction is present, skilled physical therapy can help decrease symptoms and improve function.