Co-Written by: Sarah Johnson and Evelyn Hecht, PT
You’ve got those ab exercises down pat and you’re a pro at leg day. But are you working out your pelvic floor muscles?
Your pelvic floor consists of all the muscles that support the organs in your pelvis, like the bladder, uterus, rectum, and prostate. These muscles control your bladder and bowel function. But if they’re too tense or even too relaxed, it could result in pelvic floor dysfunction and urinary tract infection.
So, what exactly is pelvic floor dysfunction? And how can pelvic floor therapy help you avoid pesky UTIs? Keep reading for the pelvic floor 4-1-1.
What is pelvic floor dysfunction?
Pelvic floor dysfunction is when your pelvic floor muscles stop working the way they’re supposed to. On a normal day, your pelvic muscles need to relax for you to urinate and have healthy bowel movements. But if those muscles are over or underactive, the whole system can be disrupted. This can be caused by a number of conditions, from urinary tract issues to prolapse.
Pelvic floor dysfunction is actually very common but may take a long time to diagnose because the symptoms are so similar to other conditions, like UTIs, endometriosis, and interstitial cystitis (IC). Almost a quarter of all US women have one or more pelvic floor disorders, but most of them don’t realize it right away.
Can pelvic floor dysfunction cause UTI symptoms?
Absolutely. In fact, the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction are so similar to a UTI, that patients will go for months thinking they have the most painful UTI of their life. When really, their pelvic floor muscles are slacking on the job.
Pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms can include these all-too-common signs of UTI:
- Frequent urge to pee
- Burning sensation during urination
- Pain during sex
- Pressure or pain in the pelvic area
Other symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction might include:
- Bowel problems
- Incontinence or leaky bladder
- Pain “down there” or pain when sitting
- A general feeling of heaviness in the pelvis
- Pain during and/or after sex
Can a UTI cause pelvic floor dysfunction?
There are many potential causes for pelvic floor dysfunction and a UTI is one of them. Even a small urinary tract infection can cause you to clench your pelvic muscles. Either you’re holding in the urge to pee or simply feeling tense from the pain and discomfort. This consistent clenching can overstimulate the pelvic floor muscles to the point where they can’t relax anymore.
The longer you leave symptoms like pelvic pain and bladder leakage unaddressed, the more noticeable pelvic floor dysfunction becomes. This can lead to UTIs and more bladder issues. Other causes of pelvic floor dysfunction can include:
- Stress and anxiety
- History of sexual trauma or abuse
- High-level sports like cycling, trampolining, and CrossFit box jumps
Can you get a UTI from pelvic floor dysfunction?
While most pelvic floor issues feel like a UTI, they can actually make your urinary tract more susceptible to infection.
When your pelvic muscles are chronically tense, a few things can happen. First, muscles around your urethra won’t fully relax while peeing, so leftover urine gets trapped inside the urethra and can stick to the urinary walls.
Chronic tension can also make your pee move slower. Most people will press against their bladder or strain to move the urine flow along. But the more pressure you put on the bladder, the more likely you won’t get all the pee out.
Most of all, pelvic muscle tension takes a toll on the nervous system. Your sympathetic nervous system - also known as your fight or flight response - gets overly activated, while your parasympathetic system - also known as your resting response - stays quiet.
All of this fight or flight activity puts your nervous system on edge. Your brain interprets it as a threat and sends signals of distress to vulnerable areas like your bladder. This gives bacteria in your urine the opportunity to stick around, spread, and cause an infection.
How is pelvic floor dysfunction diagnosed?
Since the symptoms are so similar, most people will go through countless UTI tests before pelvic floor dysfunction is diagnosed. Doctors may even prescribe multiple types of antibiotics. If you’ve tried everything and the pain is still there, ask your doctor to check for pelvic floor dysfunction and, if possible, a referral to a pelvic physical therapist.
The exam will typically include hands-on techniques that test how well your pelvic floor muscles are functioning. In other words, how good they are at contracting and relaxing. The doc might also check for muscle tension or tenderness on your external and internal tissues.
Pelvic floor contractions can also be tested with a perineometer, which is a small device that looks a bit like a tampon. The device is placed inside the vagina or rectum to monitor muscle movements.
Once pelvic floor dysfunction is diagnosed, one of the most common and effective treatments is pelvic physical therapy.
How can you strengthen your pelvic floor?
Just like any other muscle, you can exercise your pelvic floor to make it stronger and more toned. It’s called pelvic floor therapy and yes - it exists! But more importantly, it works. In one study of young girls, pelvic floor therapy was 83% effective in treating recurrent UTIs
Therapy consists of pelvic floor exercises that strengthen, stretch, and relax the muscles. Pelvic physical therapists choose manual therapies and movement exercises that suit your diagnosis and prevent future UTIs. Plus, they can teach calming mind and breathing exercises to help rewire your nervous system and allow the brain to send more feel-good chemicals to your bladder and the pelvic region.
As well as pelvic floor exercises for urinary tract infections and other issues, pelvic physical therapists might include biofeedback and dilators to improve the function of your muscles.
If you can’t locate or afford to consult a pelvic physical therapist, consider a program like PelvicSense. This online guided pelvic healing home program was developed by Evelyn Hecht, a Master Clinician of pelvic physical therapy with 25 years of experience helping women heal persistent pelvic pain and gain optimum pelvic function.
Through the PelvicSense program, you can learn and practice safe, evidence-based techniques to prevent UTIs naturally and heal pelvic floor issues for good. Want to give it a try? Use coupon code MYPELVIS to score 20% off their Silver and Gold program!
How else can I prevent UTIs and pelvic floor dysfunction?
Whether your pelvic floor is poppin’ or not, it’s important to be proactive about preventing UTIs. Utiva’s Cranberry PACs Supplement is bursting with 36mg of PACs per serving. This powerful, all-natural compound stops bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract lining and causing infection. Just one Utiva supplement a day can prevent UTIs and help fight off pelvic floor dysfunction caused by UTIs.
After that, try these additional tips for preventing UTIs and pelvic floor dysfunction:
- Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water per day to pee more frequently.
- Avoid holding in your pee for long periods of time.
- Pee before and right after sex.
- Keep genitals and sex toys bacteria-free with Utiva cleansing wipes.
- Take a daily probiotic, like Utiva’s Probiotic Power, to stimulate the good bacteria in your vagina and strengthen your immune system.
Want to learn more about pelvic floor dysfunction and UTIs? Our Utiva Community group is a safe space where you can talk to peers about your concerns and learn from doctors and experts in the field.