5 Myths About Aging and the Pelvic Floor--Debunked!
Hello friends! Happy National Healthy Aging Month! To celebrate, we are going to debunk 5 common myths about aging.
MYTH #1: PELVIC ORGAN PROLAPSE (POP) ONLY HAPPENS TO OLDER WOMEN.
Truth: Up to 50% of women that give birth will have prolapse.
What is pelvic organ prolapse? Pelvic organ prolapse is the descent of the bladder, uterus, or rectum into the vaginal canal due to insufficient support. Where does that support come from? You may have guessed it—the pelvic floor muscles! The pelvic floor muscles play a large role in supporting the pelvic organs and are helped by ligaments and other structures.
Pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT) is the #1 recommended intervention for pelvic organ prolapse. It helps increase muscle thickness, elevates the bladder neck, decreases muscle length, reduces symptoms, and much more. A trained pelvic floor physical therapist can help you properly exercise these muscles.
MYTH #2: URINE LEAKAGE IS A NATURAL PART OF LIFE.
While age can be a risk factor for urinary incontinence, that does not mean you will become incontinent or that there are no treatment options available. Studies have shown that pelvic floor muscle strength can improve incontinence symptoms. (Siracusa, 2018)
There are many medical conditions common among older individuals that can make you more susceptible to urinary incontinence. Some of these conditions include: having a hysterectomy, menopause, estrogen/progesterone hormone replacement, benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH), COPD, congestive heart failure (CHF), asthma, constipation, circulation problems, and so much more. (Siracusa, 2018)
Remember: urinary leakage (even just a drop or two) is a sign that the pelvic floor muscles are not working the way they should.
There are two main types of incontinence. Stress incontinence is when the pelvic floor muscles aren’t strong enough and/or don’t do the right thing at the right time which allows urine to leak out. Urge incontinence is leakage that is accompanied by a strong sense of urgency to use the bathroom. This is often caused by the bladder contracting when it shouldn’t. As you age, you are more likely to get mixed incontinence which is a combination of noth stress and urge incontinence. (Siracusa, 2018)
A pelvic floor physical therapist can help you determine which type of incontinence you have and develop a treatment plan individualized to you.
MYTH #3: YOU CAN’T HAVE ENJOYABLE SEX AS YOU GET OLDER.
There are a few different reasons why sex may not be as enjoyable.
Hormonal changes with menopause can cause vaginal dryness—ouch! You can use vaginal moisturizers like Good Clean Love, lubricants like coconut oil, or prescription estrogen creams.
These hormonal changes can also lead to decreased muscle tone of the pelvic floor. (Siracusa, 2018) As the pelvic floor muscles become weak and uncoordinated, they aren’t able to perform the necessary functions of helping with clitoral erections, orgasm, and support in females. For males, these muscles help to achieve and maintain an erection and can help with orgasm. Pelvic floor muscle training can help to get these muscles strong and coordinated so that you can enjoy sex!
MYTH #4: AS I GET OLDER, I WON’T BE ABLE TO HOLD IN GAS OR POOP.
Those same pelvic floor muscles that work to hold in pee also work to hold in gas and poop. If the muscles get weaker, they can have a hard time with holding it in until you’re ready to let it out.
Your eating habits, toileting habits, and pelvic floor muscle strength/coordination can all be addressed with the help of a trained pelvic floor specialist.
MYTH #5: YOU SHOULDN’T EXERCISE AND YOU CAN’T GET STRONGER WHEN YOU’RE OLDER.
Exercise is good in so many ways! Here are just a few:
It can help to maintain strong, healthy bones to prevent osteopenia and osteoporosis (brittle bones).
It can help to prevent and manage diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, and so many more. These diseases often need to be treated with medications, but these medications can have side effects that affect the functioning of your pelvic floor, or cause you to go to the bathroom more often.
Exercise has been proven to improve balance, strength, and coordination. All of these can improve mobility—and you need to be mobile to be able to get to the bathroom! Many falls in older individuals occur when they are trying to rush to the bathroom. Addressing the urgency, as well as ability to get to the bathroom, can decrease risk of both falls and incontinence!
Some individuals avoid exercise because they have urinary or fecal leakage with exercise. This is common with stress incontinence. The pelvic floor muscles aren’t able to withstand the impact of activities like jogging, jumping, squatting, and more. But this shouldn’t stop you from exercising! Pelvic floor muscle training with a pelvic floor specialist can help you get back to leak-free exercise.
Check out these resources to keep you (and your pelvic floor) functioning at your best:
·Ask your healthcare provider for a referral to a pelvic therapist.
Find a pelvic therapist on your own at myPFM.com. We have links to 4 free searchable databases under Find a PT.
Learn more about the pelvic floor muscles with our book: My Pelvic Floor Muscles The Basics: Learn where the pelvic floor muscles are, what they do, and how they work.
Visit our Amazon Store for vaginal moisturizers, lubricant, exercise equipment, and more.
Sign up for our email newsletter!
Visit our Instagram page for more on pelvic health.
Visit our YouTube channel to learn more about the pelvic floor.
Watch a quick Instagram video to learn about your pelvic floor.
Watch our YouTube Video about the Pelvic Floor Basics.
For providers and professionals, check out our courses here to learn more about on how you can help your clients stay active and healthy. Courses can be purchased individually, or join our Ambassador Program and most of our courses are included with your membership!
How has aging affected you? What have you done to stay healthy and active? We’d love to hear. Please join the conversation in the comments section below.
Written by Emily Reul, PT, DPT
1. Siracusa C et. al. Pelvic health physical therapy level 1. APTA section on women’s health. 2018.
2. 9 Things your physical therapist wants you to know about aging well. Choose PT Website. https://www.choosept.com/resources/detail/9-physical-therapist-tips-to-help-you-agewell Accessed 20 September 2020.
3. Physical therapy guide to incontinence. Choose PT Website. https://www.choosept.com/symptomsconditionsdetail/physical-therapy-guide-to-incontinence-2. Accessed 20 September 2020.