As an Occupational Therapist I tend to focus on how the mental health aspect of illness, disability, and dysfunction is affecting function and our sense of purpose. There is actually some fact to the saying that it is “all in your head.” So when planning a treatment strategy for your particular pelvic floor muscle dysfunction- whether it is pain, prolapse, or leakage, improving muscle strength alone, (the physical aspect), is rarely the only solution.
Most of us understand that the brain (which is contained in the head by-the-way) and spinal cord make up the central nervous system. The brain is the mecca-center that actually determines and acts on the information coming to and from the spinal cord. Going a step further we have another branch called the autonomic nervous system (ANS) that is broken up into 2 parts- the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic systems. Many of us have heard of the sympathetic system as being “fight or flight.” Which simply means our brain and bodies can increase the functions necessary to fight or run from a dangerous situation such as bracing for a potential car accident or fighting an attacker. Our heart race and respiration increases. The parasympathetic system does the opposite, so that we can come down from increased heart rate and chemical reactions and essentially not die from a heart attack. Think “rest and digest.” So in other words our brain says “stress” so our bodies react. However, when we are in a more constant state of stress, which most of us would admit that we are, our parasympathetic responses can be less effective.
And why is that relevant to my pelvic floor issue? Guess which part of the ANS drives the bowel and bladder? Yes, the parasympathetic or “rest and digest” system. So our mental state affects our bowel and bladder. If we are stressed and our brains and bodies are going a million miles a minute for a prolonged period of time, our ability to pee and poop effectively can be affected. Same goes for chronic pain. When we don’t give ourselves time to balance our mental, emotional, and physical states than dysfunctions can occur.
So once we become aware of the need to change, (our bodies are always giving us these subtle or sometimes not-so-subtle hints such as pain in the pelvis or urinary leakage), than we need to listen. Determining the need to “up train” such as increasing your daily movement and exercise or whether you need to “down train” such as meditating, yoga, or simply taking the time to check in and breathe, will make all of the difference in your recovery. Once we begin to understand how our minds and bodies work together, only then can we take our lives back. Only then can we function the way we were meant to and do the things that make us happy and fulfilled.