We’ve all been there: after hours of summer travel on a plane or in a car, you feel a twinge in your back or a soreness in your hips. Maybe the change in your schedule means you’re having a hard time staying regular. The culprit? Your pelvic floor, and there are many ways to alleviate these problems before they even start, says Amanda Olson, a pelvic health physical therapist who practices in Medford, Oregon.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the pelvic floor is “the group of muscles that form a sling or hammock across the floor of the pelvis.” Along with the surrounding tissues, these muscles hold the pelvic organs in place so they work properly. The pelvic organs include the bladder, urethra, intestines and rectum. A biological female’s pelvic organs also include the uterus, cervix and vagina.
“They’re muscles just like everywhere else in your body, ” says Olson, who is president and chief clinical officer of Intimate Rose, a women’s health website. “They can be strong, they can be weak, they can be too tight, they can have scar tissue, they can be poorly coordinated.”
If you’ve been neglecting your pelvic health, you may start to have problems with your pelvic floor when the area becomes injured or weakened, such as pain with sex, diminished bowel control and bladder problems, along with gastrointestinal issues. There’s also the possibility of pain in the areas that connect to the pelvic floor, such as the hip, abdomen and back.
For those who are still expecting to travel this summer, Olson, author of Restoring The Pelvic Floor: How Kegel Exercises, Vaginal Training, And Relaxation Solve Incontinence, Constipation, And Heal Pelvic Pain To Avoid Surgery, offers these tips to keep in mind for dealing with pelvic floor disorders. As with all exercise or advice, be sure to consult your physician:
- Stay hydrated: Drinking enough water can help alleviate travel constipation because of changes in your eating schedule or diet. Don’t fear using public restrooms, either, Olson says, as hovering over the toilet can cause even more issues. Bring your own toilet seat covers or cleaning wipes if you have to, but just sit down and relax for a smooth bowel movement.
- Take breaks from sitting whenever possible. Hop out of the car to stretch your hips, legs and back even if you don’t have to go to the restroom. Hold on to the car door and do deep squats if you’re able. On a long flight, swing or move your legs to get some blood flow and circulation to the muscles in the pelvic floor. Ask for assistance with your luggage if it’s too heavy, as weak core strength can injure your lower back. And remember to stretch when you disembark. Olson suggests yoga poses such as happy baby, hip stretch (ankle over knee), child’s pose, and deep squat. You may also want to use a massage wand to help release tension in your hips.
- Try to avoid stress as much as possible, as stress can cause the muscles of the pelvic floor to clench or tense up, especially when you’re sitting.
If you begin to experience pain or discomfort or any other symptoms related to your pelvic floor, it’s important to see a pelvic health specialist, as these are fixable conditions that may be treated conservatively, according to Olson. “When it comes to the pelvic floor, it’s not a no-pain-no-gain kind of approach to managing it,” Olson says. “It’s more about learning how to coordinate and use the muscles effectively so they don’t get into that position to begin with.”