Incontinence is an initial warning sign that the strength of your pelvic floor is compromised in some way and no longer has the strength to hold the contents of the pelvis. The initial symptoms are leaking urine and can progress to the point of pelvic organ prolapse. How can we have a healthy pelvis?
Pelvic health is the conversation no one wants to have so, unfortunately, incontinence has become all too common. And millions of people are suffering in silence. With the number of incontinence products and adult diapers popping up in stores, we’ve normalized the issue. But being incontinent at any phase in your life is anything but normal.
Incontinence is one of the top reasons why women end up in nursing homes later in life. It is also a strong risk factor for future falls. I want to stress again that incontinence at any point during the lifespan is NOT NORMAL. The good news is that it’s very treatable and reversible. By changing your environment and your movement you can change the health of your pelvis. Here is how:
1. Wear Flat, Flexible Footwear.
Wearing flat footwear is an essential first step to optimal pelvic health. The muscles that maintain pelvic integrity were designed to function best when we are barefoot. Wearing a rigid shoe or shoe with ANY amount of heel lift causes the rest of the body to adjust to the footwear.
In order for the muscles of the pelvis to do their job, they need to be in the right position. The happens when footwear is as close to barefoot as possible. Being barefoot allows the pelvis to maintain a neutral position, whereas wearing a heeled shoe forces the pelvis into a tucked position. Pelvic tucking throughout the day prevents your pelvic floor from doing its job effectively. Taking this step alone allows the muscles of the pelvis to work properly throughout the day, rather than consciously activating them and *hoping* that they’ll work.
2. Sit on the Floor and Squat More Often
Most of the furniture we sit on throughout the day also prevents maintaining a neutral pelvic position, or from activating the “core” throughout the day. In order to train the pelvic floor and engage the core muscles, sit on the floor (instead of in chairs) as much as possible.
On a similar note, squatting is essential to a healthy pelvis. Even resting in a supported squat helps. Start to notice how many times you bend over to pick up items off the floor and start squatting for them instead. Your core and pelvis will thank you.
3. Check-in with Your Pelvis and Rib Cage
I mentioned maintaining a neutral pelvis to keep the muscles of your pelvic floor in an optimal position to promote function. Another important component to improving the function of the core and pelvic floor is to keep the rib cage dropped. The function of abdominal, pelvic, and breathing muscles depends on the relationship between the rib cage and pelvis.
Most women are told to “stand with good posture” which can cause thrusting of the rib cage. This is an excellent example of how focusing on “good” posture can lead to dysfunctional alignment, which doesn’t promote great muscle function over time. Place on a hand on the lower ribs on the front of your body. If you feel them pushing forward let them drop down toward your pelvis until you no longer feel them pushing forward. Keep checking this position throughout the day and remind yourself to drop your ribs.
4. Stretch the Backs of Your Legs
Like wearing flat shoes, stretching your calves and hamstrings on a daily basis will allow you to keep a neutral pelvis throughout the day. If the backs of your legs are tight, the muscles will pull your pelvis into a tucked position. Make stretching an important part of the daily routine on the road to a healthy pelvis.
5. Walk Often For A Healthy Pelvis.
Walking is one of the best activities to promote a strong pelvic floor, especially walking in flat shoes. Aim for 3 to 5 miles per day, and try to space the distance out throughout the day. Walking gives the pelvic floor an opportunity to work and strengthen with each and every step taken, as long as the pelvic position is kept neutral. Combine the above step with a stretch BEFORE walking to gain more strength out of the walk.
These simple steps can both reverse incontinence and create a lifelong healthy pelvis. Better yet, these tips require little to no equipment investment to get started. So throw out the excuses and get started on the road to a healthier you today!
Brittany Denis, PT, DPT, CPT-RES is a physical therapist, movement coach, and educator empowering clients through the aging process with mindful movement. She inspires all adults to bring a growth mindset to aging both in her movement studio and online at https://www.advancedbalance.org.