The pelvic floor muscles span the entire base of the pelvis from the pubic bone to the coccyx and between both sit bones. They play an important role in bowel, bladder, and sexual function. Additionally, the pelvic floor muscles support the internal organs (bladder, bowels, uterus, etc). It is important for the pelvic floor to be able to contract AND relax for all of these systems to function optimally.
Tightness in the pelvic floor can contribute to pelvic and abdominal pain, back pain, sexual dysfunction, bowel dysfunction, and urinary dysfunction. Research has shown that up to 80% of patients have significant or complete relief of musculoskeletal pelvic pain with pelvic floor therapy techniques. Many of these techniques are aimed at relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. The following techniques can be used to help people work on relaxing the pelvic floor muscles on their own.
Take a look at the diagram below for a better understanding of where the pelvic floor muscles are. This image is of someone with a vulva and vagina, but the pelvic floor muscles are very similar regardless of genital configuration. If you want a more in-depth discussion of the pelvic floor anatomy, check out this blog.
Pelvic Floor Relaxation Techniques
- Lie on your back with one hand on your chest and one on your belly.
- Inhale through your nose and allow your belly and chest to expand.
- Can you feel your rib cage expand to the sides and even through your back?
- See if you can feel your pelvic floor expand away from you as well.
- Notice if you are “pushing” your belly or pelvic floor out. If so, try to avoid push and just ALLOW the natural expansion that happens with breathing.
- Remember that your pelvic floor is a group of muscles (like the other muscles in your body that help you climb stairs and move around). Doing regular movement and exercise can help with your flexibility and your circulation.
- Low impact exercise such as walking, swimming, stretching, light weight training, or yoga may be effective in managing pain.
- Ask your pelvic floor therapist for specific recommendations.
Certain positions can help put the pelvic floor in a more relaxed position. Child’s pose and happy baby pose are two such positions that can be done by almost anyone. Try adding in diaphragmatic breathing with these positions to enhance the relaxation further.
- Think of your pelvic floor dropping towards the ground or gently bulging as if you are actively relaxing it.
- Imagine your sit bones moving away from each other.
- Imagine your pubic bone and tail bone moving away from each other.
- Think of your vaginal opening as a circle and think of the circle getting larger.
- Think of your vulva or scrotum dropping down towards your feet.
- Imagine your vagina or anus yawning open.
Meditation is a way to achieve full-body (and thus pelvic floor) relaxation. Preliminary research shows mindfulness meditation can be a useful intervention in dealing with pelvic pain when done consistently. There are many apps that can guide you through relaxing meditations if you need help getting started.
Notice Your Activators
Certain activities, emotions, or environments may activate these muscles. Once you have recognized this, you can try to change your habits and thought patterns to prevent these activators from creating too much tension. Also pay attention to the other places in your body that hold tension (maybe your shoulders or your jaw?). When you feel any of these places tense, go ahead and intentionally relax your pelvic floor to get your whole body to relax more thoroughly.
Are you a medical provider or fitness professional?
If you found this blog handy, we have a multitude of other educational topics available along with anatomy illustrations (like the one above!) and webinars available to members of the Global Pelvic Health Alliance. Want to learn more? Go HERE to check it out!
Are you already a GPHAM member and you want the PDF formatted handout version of this blog?
You can grab this, and so many of our other handouts at the membership site! Go HERE to login.
Are you interested in a deeper dive into this topic? We’ve got webinars and courses available that go into so much more depth!
To check out our entire collection of educational offerings, go HERE.
Faubion, S. S., Shuster, L. T., & Bharucha, A. E. (2012). Recognition and management of nonrelaxing pelvic floor dysfunction. Mayo Clinic proceedings, 87(2), 187–193. 2. Wallace, S., Miller, L., Mishra, K. (2019)
Pelvic floor physical therapy in the treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction in women. Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol, 31, 2-9. 3. Fox, SD., Flynn, E., Allen, RH. (2011)
Mindfulness meditation for women with chronic pelvic pain: a pilot study. J Reprod Med, 56(3-4), 158-62. 4. Park, H., Han, D. (2015) The effect of the correlation between the contraction of the pelvic floor muscles and diaphragmatic motion during breathing. J Phys Ther Sci, 27: 2113–2115