Understanding Pelvic Health Physical Therapy

Learn how pelvic therapy can improve bladder control, reduce incontinence, and decrease pain.
Written by
Lauren Potter
Published on
Jan 22, 2024

What is pelvic health physical therapy?

Pelvic health physical therapy refers to the treatment of pelvic pain, bladder dysfunction, urinary frequency or urgency, incontinence, pregnant patients, postpartum patients, and so much more.

In this article, we will explore various conditions and symptoms that pelvic floor physical therapy can help to treat.

What can a physical therapist do to help with pelvic floor dysfunction?

Improve Bladder Control

Bladder function can be affected by many things such as bladder irritants, lifestyle changes, environmental factors, and poor toileting habits.

Certain foods and liquids are known to irritate the bladder lining, and can contribute to issues such as urgency, frequency, and pelvic pain. Some examples of bladder irritants include caffeine, coffee and tea (caffeinated or decaffeinated), carbonated drinks, alcohol, chocolate, citrus fruits/juices, spicy foods, artificial sweeteners, and dairy milk/milk products.

Bladder irritants are not the same for every person, so a physical therapist can assess for irritants in your diet and provide individualized guidance on eliminating them.

Habits and environmental factors can affect bladder function. For example, if you urinate every time you arrive at work, you may feel urgency immediately when you walk through the door because you have developed this pattern. Additionally, poor toileting habits such as hovering over the toilet can disrupt bladder function. When you sit to urinate, the pelvic floor muscles should relax, and the bladder contracts. Hovering over the toilet disrupts this pattern and can lead to incomplete voiding.

A physical therapist can discuss the environmental factors or daily habits that may be contributing to bladder dysfunction, and they can provide an individualized treatment plan to help improve your quality of life.

Decrease Incontinence with Jumping, Running, Resistance Training, Coughing, and Sneezing

Physical therapy can help decrease incontinence during activities such as jumping, running, resistance training, coughing, and sneezing. The pelvic floor muscles, hips, diaphragm, and abdominal muscles must all work together during activity to maintain continence. Muscle weakness, poor muscular endurance, and decreased muscle coordination can contribute to incontinence with activity. If your pelvic floor muscles are weak or have poor muscular endurance, you may experience urinary leaking during activities that increase intra-abdominal pressure (e.g., jumping, running, resistance training, sneezing, etc).

As an example, leaking every time you do double-unders may be due to decreased strength or endurance in the pelvic floor muscles and/or the hips. The hips and pelvic floor muscles sit next to each other in the pelvis. If weakness is present in either muscle group, the pelvic floor muscles may not be able to contract properly to maintain continence during high-impact activity.

A physical therapist can assess for the presence of weakness and determine a treatment plan to improve muscular strength, endurance, and coordination.

Decrease Pelvic Pain

There are various causes for pelvic floor muscle dysfunction and pelvic pain. Muscle weakness, tightness, and incoordination can cause pelvic pain and decrease pelvic floor muscle function. The dysfunction can occur between the pelvic floor muscles and the bladder, hips, abdominal muscles, or the diaphragm. Pelvic pain and pelvic floor muscle dysfunction may also be related to hip, low back, or abdominal pain.

A physical therapist can complete an in-depth examination to determine the possible causes of your pain.

What does all of this mean for me?

Urinary leakage and incontinence are abnormal and should not be dismissed or accepted as normal due to aging, being postpartum, or having a medical procedure.

A physical therapist can help identify bladder irritants, habits, or muscle imbalances that are contributing to bladder dysfunction, pelvic pain, and urinary incontinence.

What should I look for in a physical therapist that treats pelvic floor dysfunction?

Your pelvic health physical therapy appointment should be one-on-one, and your physical therapist should provide extensive education to make sure you understand what may be contributing to your symptoms and the suggested treatment plan. You will benefit most from a physical therapist that prioritizes FUNCTIONAL FITNESS to treat your symptoms. This will look different for each patient, but it means focusing on improving strength with progressive overload to improve your quality of life.

What can I do next?

If you are looking for a physical therapist who will help to decrease pain, decrease urinary incontinence, and improve your function and quality of life with a strength and conditioning approach, schedule an appointment with Vulcan Performance today. Dr. Lauren Potter specializes in pelvic health physical therapy treatment and has received training through the Herman and Wallace Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation Institute to treat the pelvic floor.

Dr. Lauren Potter at Vulcan Performance talking to a female patient