We rely on our bodies to automatically work for us; to breathe, to pump our blood, to fight infection, to process our food. And if there is one process that we prefer to have handled subconsciously, it is our bowel function. But when there is problem with our bowels, we notice – boy, do we notice!
Bowel discomfort is unpleasant to experience and to talk about, but it is an issue many women face and it goes beyond just feeling uncomfortable or sick.
If you are experiencing issues during or in-between your bowel movements, you might be experiencing pelvic floor bowel dysfunction.
What is Pelvic Floor Dysfunction?
Pelvic floor dysfunction is defined as the inability to correctly tighten and/or relax your pelvic floor muscles. Those who develop pelvic floor bowel dysfunction flex their pelvic floor muscles when they should be relaxing them, which can make it difficult to fully empty your bowels or can lead to leaking of stool.
What are some symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction?
Typically, pelvic floor bowel dysfunction is related to other pelvic floor disorders such as urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse. These disorders are caused by the weakening of your pelvic floor muscles, which support your pelvic organs like your bladder, uterus, rectum, vagina, and bowels. When these muscles weaken, they can no longer support these organs and concerns start to arise.
Due to interrelatedness of pelvic floor bowel dysfunction to other pelvic floor disorders, symptoms can vary. However, there are a few symptoms that can alert you to an issue with your bowel health:
- Constipation or straining to pass stool
- Leakage of stool with or without awareness
- A chronic feeling of needing to use the bathroom
- A feeling that you cannot completely empty your bowel when you do use the restroom
- Pain in your pelvic region
- Pain in your lower back or tailbone
- Pain after passing a bowel movement
The types of symptoms you experience also vary by the type of pelvic floor disorder you are experiencing.
Types of Bowel Pelvic Floor Dysfunctions
In relation to bowel health, there are few different types of pelvic floor dysfunction:
- Obstructed defecation – difficulty getting bowel movements out of the body, typically the result of pelvic floor muscles not functioning properly.
- Rectocele – a form of pelvic organ prolapse where your rectum begins to fall, which in turn can cause issues with bowel leakage or an inability to fully empty your bowel.
- Paradoxical Puborectalis Contraction – when the muscle that helps you pass bowel movements does not relax, preventing stool from leaving the rectum.
- Levator Syndrome – abnormal spasms of the pelvic floor muscles, resulting in a dull or achy feeling in your rectum.
- Coccygodynia – pain in the tailbone that can worsen with movement or after defecation.
- Protalgia Fugax – a sudden, abnormal pain in your rectum that can awaken you during the night. This pain is thought to be caused by an abnormal spasm of your rectum or pelvic floor muscles.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar, it might be time to reach out to your doctor for relief.
The most effective method of prevention of pelvic floor bowel dysfunction is through pelvic floor exercises. Those who are experiencing these sorts of bowel discomfort should strengthen their pelvic floor muscles through Kegel exercises, exercises that contract, hold, and relax the muscles in your pelvis.
In addition to exercising, your doctor may also suggest a change in diet (incorporating more fiber) or recommend practicing relaxing your muscles when you are passing a bowel movement. Medication can also be used to help your muscles relax and operate normally.
The most popular treatment for pelvic floor bowel dysfunction is biofeedback. This treatment method uses biofeedback machines to monitor your pelvic floor muscles non-invasively while you contract and relax them. Using the information from the biofeedback machines, your doctor will suggest changes and exercises to help retrain these muscles and improve your coordination. This treatment method has proven very effective and requires no surgical correction.
If your pelvic floor dysfunction is the result of a rectocele, surgery may be required.
Tying it all together
While we might prefer to not think about our bowel habits, being aware of how our body feels during our visits to the bathroom can help address elimination issues or avoid long-term bowel damage. Take the necessary steps to function perfectly.