What is pelvic floor dysfunction?

Pelvic floor dysfunction is the inability to correctly contract (tighten) and relax the muscles in the pelvic floor to have a bowel movement. The pelvic floor is a group of muscles in the floor of the pelvic area. These muscles support the organs in the pelvis, and some form a sling around the rectum and vagina.

The organs in this area include the bladder, uterus (women), prostate (men), and rectum (the area at the end of the large intestine where the body stores solid waste). By contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, you enable bowel and bladder movements.

People with pelvic floor dysfunction contract these muscles rather than relax them. Because of this, they have difficulty in evacuating a bowel movement, they have an incomplete bowel movement, or they may leak urine or stool.

Pelvic floor muscles (female)

Pelvic floor muscles (female)

Pelvic floor muscles (male)

Pelvic floor muscles (male)

What causes pelvic floor dysfunction?

Most causes of pelvic floor dysfunction are unknown. Traumatic injuries to the pelvic area, such as in an accident, and complications from vaginal childbirth can contribute to this condition. Some cases are due to a learned behavior (repeated actions of straining) that develop into a practice of muscle coordination that is incorrect.

What are the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction?

Several symptoms may suggest pelvic floor dysfunction. If you have any of these symptoms, you should discuss them with your physician. Some symptoms may also point to other conditions, but a complete physical exam should be able to determine what is causing your symptoms.

Symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction may include:

  • The feeling that you need to have several bowel movements during a short period of time.
  • The feeling that you cannot complete a bowel movement.
  • Constipation, or straining pain with bowel movements.
  • Leakage of stool/urine with or without your awareness.
  • A frequent need to urinate. When you do go, you may stop and start many times.
  • Painful urination.
  • Pain in your lower back that cannot be explained by other causes.
  • Ongoing pain in your pelvic region, genitals, or rectum with or without a bowel movement.
  • Pain during intercourse (experienced by women).

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