Three weeks after giving birth to my son, itching to get back to my “normal” routine (and admittedly, overtired and muddled in the head from life with a colicky newborn), I laced up my running shoes and hit the pavement. About half a mile into the run, I felt a pop and a drop. In that instant, I developed a mild bladder prolapse and life was never the same. But keep reading, because there’s great news ahead.
First, let’s talk about prolapse. What is it?
Prolapse is a condition in which one or more of your pelvic organs shifts from its ideal position and “hangs a little low.” It occurs as a result of loss of support from the internal structures that keep everything in place, and from a decrease in support from below (i.e. pelvic floor support).
Women can develop these types of prolapse:
- Rectocele – when the rectum bulges into the vaginal wall
- Cystocele – when the bladder bulges into the vaginal wall
- Enterocele – when a portion of the small intestine descends and pushes into the vaginal wall
- Uterine prolapse – when the uterus lowers into (and in some cases protrudes out of) the vagina
- Vaginal vault prolapse – when the uterus has been removed (as in the case of a hysterectomy) and the top part of the vagina drops down into the vaginal canal
- Rectal prolapse – when part of the rectum drops down toward (or protrudes outside of) the anus
Symptoms you can experience with prolapse
Although it may differ depending on stage (severity) and type of prolapse, in general, prolapse can cause:
- Feelings of heaviness, fullness, or pressure in the pelvis
- Back and/or pelvic pain (especially as the day wears on)
- Difficulties with elimination (i.e. constipation and/or uncomfortable bowel movements)
- Discomfort during intimacy
- Urinary urgency, frequency, and/or bladder leakage
- In some cases, frequent urinary tract infections
Who gets prolapse?
Prolapse is surprisingly common among women who’ve given birth and becomes more prevalent as women move through menopause; however, it’s not exclusively limited to these populations. Just like bladder leakage, young women who have never been pregnant can develop prolapse as well.
This information is not intended to induce fear; it’s simply to make you aware. Many clients have told me that they had no idea this could even occur. And, if they had known, they would have made changes to their exercise routines and to their lifestyles. Thus, let’s focus on how to prevent prolapse before it starts, and how to catch it while you still can—especially as it pertains to exercise.
How exercise can help prolapse (including pelvic floor exercises)
Now for the good news: there is a lot of hope when it comes to prolapse, and a lot that can be done on your own to manage and even reverse your symptoms, especially if you have only mild to moderate prolapse. (For more detailed information on the stages of prolapse, visit FemFusionFitness.)
Let’s talk about exercise and how it can help prolapse.
- If you suspect you have prolapse, or if you are very newly postpartum, avoid high-impact exercises such as running. Learn from my story! You can still get a great workout from low-impact moves, and it’s possible that you can build back up in the future. (But it will take some time and care.)
- Keep your core—which includes your pelvic floor—strong and healthy by doing exercises that focus on engaging these muscles, and, most importantly, also knowing how to release them. If you want more guidance on this (and more), feel free to check out and join my Kegel Camp.
- When doing ab work, engage your pelvic floor first (gently squeeze and lift), and then gently draw in your low abs. Keep this “zipped up” position throughout your ab work. Breathe a little bit higher (into your chest) so that you can keep this lifted/pulled-in position. When you’re done with your core exercises, release/relax and breathe normally—deeply, expansively, and into your low belly and low ribs.
- Learn how to lift correctly. “Zip up your core” (pelvic floor first) and exhale as you lift. This applies to lifting weights, as well as to lifting kids, boxes, groceries, laundry baskets, etcetera.
- Maintain good posture and steady breathing while exercising. This is particularly important while biking. It’s easy to slouch, which puts a lot of downward pressure on your pelvic organs. Always stay lifted, and keep breathing.
Getting personal about prolapse, how exercise can help, and more
I mentioned above that my life was never the same after developing prolapse. Ultimately, my prolapse gave me purpose and so much self-awareness. I used my education as a physical therapist to design my own self-healing program with exercises and lifestyle tips that I personally used to resolve my symptoms. This, coupled with the natural postpartum healing process, allowed me to return to normal. Now, 12 years later, I am prolapse-free and thousands of women have gone through the healing program I created for myself.
What does it mean to be “cured” from prolapse? That means I am not symptomatic most days, and I am able to easily manage my condition when I do feel that old pressure and heaviness returning. I simply have to manage my diet, avoid constipation, and utilize the “zipping up” and breathing tips above. I’m also aware that certain times of the month will cause things to feel a bit heavier “down there.” During those times, it’s best to avoid heavy lifting and high-impact activities.
I offer hope that this can be the story for you, too. Please contact a women’s health physical therapist for individualized diagnosis and treatment. And for self-help information that you can use right now (whether you have, suspect you have, or want to prevent prolapse), you can find more information at my site and connect with me at FemFusionFitness.
- How exercise can help (or hurt) prolapse, with Dr. Bri - May 20, 2020