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What Is Your Pelvic Floor? And Why You Should Stop Ignoring It

Posted By Bailee Burningham, PT


The pelvic floor is a bowl of muscles at the bottom of the pelvis that helps to control bowel, bladder and sexual function. It consists of three layers from superficial to deep that have differing functions.

The first and second layers — the superficial one —  are smaller muscles that all come together to create the openings that allow for essential bodily functions. These openings are the urethra, vagina (females) and anus. The functions  are — you guessed i! —urination, sexual function and defecation.

The third and deepest layer is best thought of as a circular hammock that slings from the pubic bone all the way back to the tailbone (front to back) and between the right and left sides of the pelvis. This layer assists with the bodily functions listed above, but also plays a vital role in the strength and stabilization of the pelvis, hips and spine.

Needless to say, the pelvic floor has several very important jobs to do, and when it’s not working properly (usually referred to as “pelvic floor dysfunction”), a variety of problems can arise.

Common Signs of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

  • Losing urine (large or small amounts) from your bladder any time you’re not on the toilet. This includes when coughing, sneezing, exercise, on your way to the bathroom, during sexual activity and while sleeping.
  • Feeling strong or sudden urinary urgency.
  • Going frequently.
  • Constipation.
  • Pain with bowel movements.  
  • Losing gas or stool without feeling in control.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Pain with sexual activity.
  • Tailbone (coccyx) pain.
  • Lower abdominal pain.
  • Low back or hip pain.
  • Pain in the pelvic area that feels nonspecific and hard to explain.

If you are experiencing urinary, bowel or sexual dysfunction, the pelvic floor could potentially be playing a role in your symptoms.

In addition to the stabilization of the pelvis, hips and spine, pelvic floor dysfunction also can lead to low back or hip pain that stubbornly will not respond to other treatments. If you’ve experienced this frustration, it is very possible that the missing piece to the puzzle is addressing the pelvic floor.

However, it’s important to note that many of these symptoms could also be signs of other medical conditions, so you should discuss them with your physician or medical provider to rule them out.

Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is now offering physician and therapy TeleHealth appointments to provide patients easy access to our expert clinical teams. New and existing outpatients can schedule and appointment at 312.238.1000 or here.

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