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Pelvic Floor Dysfunction Symptoms: Recognizing the Signs and Seeking Help

Medically reviewed by: Melissa A. Delgado, MD, FACOG

Melissa A. Delgado, MD, FACOG is the founder and owner of The Chronic Pelvic Pain Center of Northern Virginia. Dr. Delgado is an experienced, board-certified OB/GYN and has spent the past 10 years dedicating her time to understanding complex and persistent pelvic pain.

A black and white photo from behind of a woman sitting on a couch, looking left toward a window.
Image Source: Pavel Danilyuk via Pexels

Pelvic floor dysfunction is a common but often misunderstood condition that can cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms.

The pelvic floor refers to a group of muscles and tissues that support the organs in the pelvis, including the bladder, uterus, and rectum. When these muscles don't function properly, it can lead to a variety of symptoms that can significantly impact a person's quality of life.

Understanding the signs of pelvic floor dysfunction is crucial for seeking help and finding relief. Here, we’ll go over some common symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, what to do if you’re diagnosed with pelvic floor dysfunction, and the best treatments to find relief from your symptoms.

Common Symptoms of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

The pelvic floor plays a vital role in maintaining the proper functioning of the pelvic region. It provides support and stability to the bladder, uterus, and rectum, helping to control urinary and bowel movements. Additionally, pelvic floor muscles are responsible for sexual function and play a role in childbirth, too.

So when the pelvic floor becomes weak, tight, or damaged, it can lead to a range of symptoms and complications.

Pelvic floor dysfunction can manifest in various ways, and symptoms can vary from person to person. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Urinary incontinence: Involuntary leakage of urine, which can be triggered by coughing, sneezing, or exercising.

  • Bowel dysfunction: Difficulties with bowel movements, like constipation and difficulty emptying the bowels.

  • Range of pelvic pain: Many individuals with pelvic floor dysfunction experience chronic pelvic pain, which can be dull and aching or sharp and “stabbing” in nature.

  • Pain during intercourse: Pain or discomfort during sexual activity, which can impact a person's sexual health and intimate relationships.

  • Pelvic organ prolapse: In some cases, pelvic floor dysfunction can cause the organs in the pelvis to descend or protrude into the vaginal canal.

Types of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

While there are many possible pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms, there are also many types of pelvic floor dysfunction, each with its own set of symptoms and potential causes. The most common types include:

  • Hypertonic pelvic floor dysfunction: When the pelvic floor muscles are excessively tight or contracted, which can cause pain, difficulty with bowel movements, and urinary urgency.

  • Hypotonic pelvic floor dysfunction: Characterized by weak or underactive pelvic floor muscles. It can lead to urinary or fecal incontinence and even pelvic organ prolapse.

  • Pelvic floor muscle spasm: Involuntary contraction or spasm of the pelvic floor muscles. Can cause pelvic pain, difficulty with bowel movements, and pain during intercourse.

Causes of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

Different types of pelvic floor dysfunction can have various causes. Often, pelvic floor dysfunction is caused by a combination of several factors that can contribute to its development. Some common causes may include:

  • Pregnancy and childbirth: The strain placed on the pelvic floor during pregnancy and childbirth can lead to muscle weakness or damage.

  • Chronic constipation: Straining during bowel movements due to chronic constipation can put excessive pressure on the pelvic floor muscles, leading to dysfunction.

  • Aging: As we age, the muscles and tissues in the pelvic floor naturally weaken, increasing the risk of dysfunction.

  • Surgery: Certain surgical procedures, such as hysterectomy, can damage the pelvic floor muscles.

  • Trauma: Traumatic events, such as a fall or injury, can result in pelvic floor dysfunction.

If you suspect you may be experiencing symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, it is important to seek a proper diagnosis and care from a qualified medical professional, like a pelvic pain specialist.

Diagnosis will typically begin with a detailed medical history and physical examination. Further diagnostic tests, such as pelvic floor muscle assessments or imaging studies, may be recommended to further evaluate the causes of your symptoms.

A comprehensive evaluation is crucial for determining the type and severity of pelvic floor dysfunction and determining an appropriate treatment plan.

Treatment Options for Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

The treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction depends on the specific type and severity of the condition. Some common treatment options include:

  • Pelvic floor physical therapy: Involves exercises and techniques to strengthen or relax the pelvic floor muscles, depending on the type of dysfunction.

  • Prescription medications: Medications may be prescribed to alleviate symptoms such as pain or urinary urgency.

  • Lifestyle modifications: Certain lifestyle changes, such as improving bowel habits or managing stress, can help manage pelvic floor dysfunction.

  • Biofeedback: This therapy uses sensors to provide feedback on muscle activity, helping you learn to control your pelvic floor muscles more effectively.

  • Surgery: In more severe cases of pelvic floor dysfunction, surgery may be necessary to repair or strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.

Pelvic floor therapy and its benefits

Pelvic floor therapy, also known as pelvic floor rehabilitation, is a specialized form of physical therapy that focuses on the muscles and tissues of the pelvic floor. It can be highly beneficial for individuals with pelvic floor dysfunction, helping to improve muscle strength, flexibility, and coordination.

Pelvic floor therapy typically involves exercises, manual techniques, and education on proper pelvic floor function. It is a non-invasive and conservative approach that can provide significant relief for many individuals.

Tips for Managing Pelvic Floor Dysfunction Symptoms

In addition to seeking professional help, there are several strategies you can implement to manage the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction:

  • Stay hydrated and eat a balanced diet: Staying hydrated and eating a diet rich in fiber and low in processed foods can help prevent constipation, which can worsen pelvic floor dysfunction.

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight can and often does put additional strain on your pelvic floor muscles, exacerbating symptoms.

  • Practice good posture: While it may sound cliché, proper posture does help align the pelvis and maintain optimal function of your pelvic floor muscles.

  • Practice pelvic floor exercises: Regularly performing exercises that strengthen and relax your pelvic floor muscles can help improve symptoms and prevent further dysfunction (whether as a part of physical therapy or on your own).

  • Avoid heavy lifting: Lifting heavy objects can strain the pelvic floor muscles, so it's best to avoid or minimize this type of activity.

Coping with chronic pelvic pain syndrome

In some cases, pelvic pain can become so chronic that it feels like it’s never-ending. Chronic pelvic pain syndrome (CPPS) — or persistent, recurring pain in the pelvic region that lasts for more than six months — can be a complication of pelvic floor dysfunction.


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Coping with chronic pelvic pain can be challenging, both physically and emotionally. Here are some tips to help manage this condition:

  • Pain-management techniques: Utilize techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or heat therapy to help alleviate pain. Not all pain management techniques work for everyone, so it’s important to try everything your provider recommends.

  • Pelvic floor relaxation exercises: Relaxation techniques specifically targeting the pelvic floor muscles can help reduce tension and pain. Biofeedback, which we mentioned earlier, can help you determine which exercises will work best for you.

  • Stress management: Physical pain isn’t the only thing women living with pelvic floor dysfunction have to worry about. Finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as regular exercise, mindful meditation, and engaging in personal hobbies can be just as important.

  • Peer support groups: There’s nothing like talking to someone who gets what you’re going through. Joining a support group or seeking therapy can provide emotional support and a safe space to discuss your experiences.

When to Seek Professional Help for Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

Pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms can significantly impact a person's quality of life, but with the right diagnosis and treatment, relief is possible.

So if you're experiencing any of the symptoms associated with pelvic floor dysfunction, don't hesitate to seek professional help. Some warning signs that indicate you should consult a healthcare professional include:

  • Symptoms that persist or worsen over time

  • Inability to control urine or fecal leakage

  • Severe or debilitating pelvic pain

  • Pelvic organ prolapse

Pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms can significantly impact a person's quality of life, but with the right diagnosis and treatment, relief is possible.

The Pelvic Pain Center of Northern Virginia is dedicated to providing compassionate and comprehensive care for women with pelvic floor dysfunction and its related conditions and symptoms. Find relief and improve your quality of life by reaching out to Dr. Delgado at The CPP Center today.


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