Hello! Let me first say, I am so happy that you are curious about your pelvic floor! All of the media used below is made by yours truly, please feel free to let me know what I can do to better depict this wonderful group of muscles!
If you would prefer to watch a video on this topic, please check out the video below!
Let’s start by saying that, if you are reading this—with female or male biology—you have a pelvic floor! The term “pelvic floor” is used to describe a group of muscles that connect inside of your pelvis, from your pubic bone to your tailbone, often likened to a hammock.
But where is your pelvis, and how can we look at it (and your pelvic floor) from different views?
(Fun fact—your pubic bone is bigger than you might think! In both women and men, about half of the genitalia lies on the pubic bone.)
Now that you have a better idea about where your pelvis is and how to view it from different angles, it’s much easier to imagine your pelvic floor. Let’s revisit that side view, and imagine the pelvic floor as a hammock connected from your pubic bone to your tailbone (or coccyx).
Now, your pelvic floor is just that, a floor. To better understand its functions, you must understand what organs live above it. In women, the bladder, uterus, and bowel live above the floor—all of which have tubes (urethra, vagina, and rectum, respectively) that pierce the floor and exit the body externally.
If you have female genitalia, feel free to grab a mirror and do some self exploration! If we revisit the view of the pelvis looking up towards the head, you can see an opening for the urethra (which connects to the bladder and expels urine), the vaginal canal (which connects to the uterus, and expels babies and menstrual blood), and the rectum (which connects to the bowel, and expels feces)! To see the urethral opening and vaginal canal, you will need to spread your vaginal lips, or labia, apart.
In men, the bladder, prostate, and bowel live above the floor; however, men only have two tubes—a urethra and a rectum. The urethra expels both urine and semen, which exit at the tip of the penis, while the rectum expels feces.
So, what exactly does this wonderful muscle hammock do? Well, there are actually three layers of your pelvic floor, and each layer has different functions! Without breaking down the layers, know that your pelvic floor functions are:
- Sphincteric—these muscles act as sphincters around your urethra and anus, opening and closing to allow urine, semen, and feces to be expelled
- Sexual—these muscles move blood into an erect clitoris or penis, and spasm when you orgasm
- Supportive—these muscles support the organs (bladder, bowel, and either prostate or uterus) that live above them
- Stabilizing—these muscles act in tandem with your abdominal wall, inner back muscles, and diaphragm to create the floor of your canister of abdominal support
Understanding these functions, it begins to make sense that pelvic floor dysfunction can manifest in several different ways, including: leaking urine or feces (potentially a lack of sphincteric control), painful intercourse (perhaps due to pelvic floor muscle guarding around the vaginal or anal canal), prolapse (maybe a defect in the support of the organs that live above the floor), or low back and hip pain (possibly caused by compensation due to a weak pelvic floor, and therefore weak core stability). These are not an exhaustive list of how pelvic floor dysfunction can affect a human, but palpable examples linked directly to the pelvic floor’s functions.
A new post will be coming soon to learn more about the specific layers of the pelvic floor!
Are you looking for a pelvic provider in your area? Search for a pelvic physical therapist near you, here!