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Common Pelvic Floor Terms: Defined

Hi friends! Pelvic health is often new information for many of us. It is easy to get caught up and overwhelmed with all the different terms used when talking about pelvic floor anatomy and dysfunction. This week we are going to define those terms in simple conditions. Understanding these terms can help you navigate your own pelvic floor journey, including being able to advocate for yourself.


Here are some common pelvic floor terms (in alphabetical order), click the link to learn more about each:

  • Coccydynia: tailbone pain

  • Cystocele: pelvic organ prolapse where the bladder begins to descend into the vaginal wall, this is the most common location of prolapse

  • Diastasis recti: separation of the right and left muscles, commonly caused by pregnancy

  • Dyspareunia: pain with sexual intercourse

  • Dyssynergic defecation (outlet dysfunction): contraction of the pelvic floor muscles when trying to defecate which makes it difficult to have a bowel movement

  • Enterocele: pelvic organ prolapse where the small bowel (intestines) begin to descend into the vaginal wall

  • Fecal incontinence: uncontrolled leakage of fecal material for more than 3 months

  • Labia minora: inner labia lips, does not have hair follicles

  • Labia majora: outer labia lips, contains hair follicles

  • Mixed urinary incontinence: a combination of stress and urge urinary incontinence (see below)

  • Nocturnal enuresis: leakage of urine while sleeping

  • Nocturia: the need to urinate while sleeping

  • Pelvic organ prolapse (POP): descent of the pelvic organ(s) into the vaginal wall, symptoms can include vaginal bulging, pelvic pressure, and low backache

  • Perineum: the area between the anus and vulva in women, and the area between the anus and scrotum in men

  • Pessary: a device that is inserted into the vagina to keep pelvic organ prolapse from bulging beyond the opening of the vagina to reduce symptoms

  • Pubic symphysis dysfunction: pain in the pubic symphysis (joint in the front of the pelvis), this is common during pregnancy

  • Pudendal nerve: nerve with several branches that control the sensation to the genitals and controls the pelvic floor muscles

  • Rectocele: pelvic organ prolapse where the rectum begins to descend into the vaginal wall

  • Sphincter: a muscle that works to contract (hold things in) or relax (to let things out), there are many sphincters in the pelvic floor to control peeing, pooping, and sexual intercourse

  • Stress urinary incontinence: leakage of urine with effort or physical exertion (e.g. sneezing or jumping)

  • Urge urinary incontinence: leakage of urine with the urge to go to the bathroom

  • Vaginismus: painful spasm of the vagina/pelvic floor muscles that can prevent vaginal penetration (e.g. intercourse, tampon insertion, pelvic exams)

  • Vestibule: region of external female anatomy from the clitoris to the bottom of the vaginal opening spanning from the inside of the labia minora on each side

  • Vestibulodynia: pain within the vestibule, a type of vulvodynia

  • Vulva: region of external female anatomy starting from the mons pubis and including the labia (lips), clitoris, and opening to the vagina

  • Vulvodynia: pain in the vulva (often described as burning)

To learn more about your pelvic floor, check out these great resources:

For providers, check out our online courses to help your clients. Consider joining our Ambassador Program and most of our courses are included with your membership!


Written by Emily Reul, PT, DPT

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