Pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms that aren’t talked about enough

Pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms- illustration of woman's pelvis

No matter what pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms you have, you might feel a lot of pain, worry, and confusion. It’s common for women to feel a variety of sensations and symptoms–even beyond those that are usually associated with pelvic floor dysfunction. Let’s talk about what those are and what can help.

What is pelvic floor dysfunction?

The term pelvic floor dysfunction describes an issue with controlling the muscles of the pelvic floor due to too much muscle tension or not enough muscle tone. As a result, anyone experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction might have trouble relaxing or engaging the pelvic muscles to go to the bathroom, sit, walk, and help support the tissues and organs in your pelvis. Also, just like the pain that occurs when muscles are too tight or overstretched in other parts of the body, it’s common to feel pain and pressure.

There are many different things that can trigger or be associated with experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction: childbirth, aging, genetics, hormone fluctuations, injury and trauma, surgeries, and others. We know that all of the pain, pressure, and trouble going to the bathroom feels isolating and lonely. Your pain and experience are real and valid–but our society doesn’t always encourage us to talk about this area of our body or its function. According to the University of Chicago, about 10% of women ages 20–39 report pelvic floor dysfunction, and that increases to nearly 30% of women 40–59 and 37% in ages 60–79. And it’s really likely that those statistics are even higher and that a significant number of cases are going unreported.

Common symptoms many women experience

Regardless of the cause, there are some hallmark signs of pelvic floor dysfunction. You might be:

  • straining to go to the bathroom
  • having leakage (from the vagina or anus)
  • feeling like you have to go pee all of the time
  • experiencing lower back, abdomen, and/or pelvic pain
  • getting intense pressure or bulging in the pelvic area
  • suffering with painful intercourse
  • having burning feelings in your pelvis

Some women experience all of these symptoms, and others only have a few. What you, personally, experience depends on so many different factors. It’s also really important to know there are more symptoms to pelvic floor dysfunction than the ones above. They can be just as present and affect your quality of life just as much, but they don’t get talked about as much or at all.

Symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction no one’s talking about

Your symptoms are real, and there are many of pelvic floor dysfunction that go beyond the most common ones. Dr. Sara Smith, DPT, CHC, RYT-200, says, “Women with pelvic floor dysfunction can have all kinds of physical and emotional symptoms, whether they’re exacerbated by the dysfunction or they are a result of managing pelvic floor dysfunction.”

“I work with women who have begun to have poor posture and aches in their back, neck, and shoulders when they move,” Dr. Smith adds. “They limit their social activities due to not being able to control gas or their bladder. They’re stressed from pain and everyday life, which contracts the pelvic floor more. And, also, what hardly ever gets talked about is how pelvic floor dysfunction makes you exhausted and makes it harder to think clearly.”

Having pelvic floor dysfunction also puts you at a much higher risk for depression than women who don’t have pelvic pain. Pelvic floor dysfunction and all that’s associated with it (including trying to find good care) can lead to depressive symptoms. This issue compounds because then depression also makes it more challenging to address pelvic floor dysfunction. Depression also affects how we perceive pain and make any pain that we do have feel even worse.

Whole-health approaches and addressing gaps in pelvic knowledge are key to feeling better

If you think about how emotions and stress are connected to and impact the pelvic floor, it makes sense that a physical approach or exercises just aren’t enough for pelvic floor dysfunction. To really improve, you really need to address spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health A good pelvic floor therapist understands this and is often working on all aspects of your health. It also helps to work with a coach and licensed mental health counselor to address trauma and find new ways to cope with stress. And, of course, the physical component is important too.

“I see two main gaps in most women’s understanding of the pelvic floor and core,” Dr. Smith explains. “Both of which leave room for continued internal issues such as pain, instability, leaking, prolapse, and more. They’re missing vital skills that can help them achieve their desired health results,” she adds.

“First, learning when and how to correctly engage your pelvic floor and core musculature is vital to breaking free of silent pelvic suffering. Second, directly addressing stress and the cycle of thoughts and behaviors that come with it will transform your results. Once you address these simultaneously, you can improve your quality of life in so many ways:

  • Less pain and dysfunction,
  • More energy,
  • Better sleep,
  • Improved clarity,
  • Greater productivity,
  • Improved communication, 
  • And greater ability to be and feel like yourself.”

Want to work with pelvic floor therapist and health coach Dr. Sara Smith on how to activate your core correctly? You can find out more here.