Your body is a marvel. With 60,000 miles of blood vessels that could circle the Earth two-and-a-half times if stretched out, your body is constantly at work churning out new cells (25 million of them every second, in fact). It also hosts trillions of microorganisms, which help regulate everything from hormones, to mood, to body weight.1,2
Nerve impulses travel from to and from your brain at speeds of up to 250 miles per hour and, if your brain were a computer, it could perform 38 trillion operations per second, leaving the world’s most powerful supercomputer in the dust.
All this action keeps you running like a fine-tuned machine 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Then there are your muscles—sophisticated structures that convert energy into motion and keep blood flowing throughout your body (you can thank your heart muscle for that). Muscles make up approximately 40% of our body weight and, without them, we quite literally could not function.
Which brings us to our topic of discussion: the muscles of the pelvic floor—specifically, the female pelvic floor.
Supporting Your Lady Parts (and More): The Pelvic Floor Muscles
The pelvic floor is a system of muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues that support the organs of the pelvis, including the bladder, bowel, uterus, and vagina.
Damage to these muscles is common in women. Stress and strain from pregnancy and childbirth—and hormonal changes from menopause—can weaken the pelvic floor muscles and lead to bladder leakage, pelvic organ prolapse (POP), and reduced sexual satisfaction. A striking one in three women will experience some form of bladder leakage at some point. Sadly, 50 percent of women don’t report the issue to their doctors, instead of suffering in silence.
Pelvic organ prolapse is also a common problem associated with weakened pelvic floor muscles. It occurs when an organ in the pelvis (such as the bladder or uterus) drops from its normal position and pushes against the walls of the vagina. Several organs can be involved in prolapse, including the bladder, small bowel, rectum, uterus, vagina, and urethra.
Millions of women will develop prolapse at some point. It’s important to know that stress incontinence, the most common form of UI, is often associated with pelvic organ prolapse.
To make sense of problems like UI and pelvic organ prolapse, it helps to have a basic understanding of a woman’s pelvic floor anatomy—let’s take a closer look.