Gasp. Yup. I am going to say it again. Pelvic floor.
In the last and coming months, I have been incredibly fortunate to attend an award-winning, and highly specialist training in exercise for people living with cancer. The course is offered by CanRehab, set up by Dr. Anna Campbell, supported by her sister Lorna. Anna has spent the last two decades working tirelessly to research and educate on the physical and psychological benefits of staying active after a cancer diagnosis and was awarded an MBE for her contribution. The course is extremely thorough and the quality of teaching second to none; with Anna taking the majority of the course, along with Sarah Bolitho, a highly accredited expert exercise professional, and author of several books. Other experts in the fields of cancer nursing and physiotherapy were on hand to answer our every question with enthusiasm and highly specialist knowledge and experience.
Whilst it would be impossible to share the breadth of knowledge, I have gained from this training already, there is one subject which all of the tutors on the course emphatically encouraged us to share far and wide: the importance of looking after our pelvic floor muscles.
In general conversation speaking the words ‘pelvic floor’ aloud feels akin to skipping down Diagon Alley shouting ‘Voldemort’. But the benefits of shining a light on our collective undercarriages are too important to hide our lights under a bushel. We need to start having these conversations loudly, to everyone who will listen, regardless of gender and sensibilities.
What is your pelvic floor?
Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles that form a hammock supporting your bladder, bottom, and vagina or penis. Strengthening our pelvic floor has many benefits including preventing and improving incontinence, preventing erectile dysfunction, preventing pelvic organ prolapse, and contributing to better sex. According to the W.H.O, the prevalence of incontinence in people over 60 is between 9%-36%. Incontinence has a profound impact on quality of life, self-esteem, and also greatly increases the likelihood of needing care in old age.
You too chaps…
Having your pelvic floor in good shape before and after cancer treatments such as hormone therapy and surgery and radiotherapy in the pelvic region can improve the common side effects of incontinence and erectile dysfunction. With more and more people living with cancer, (due in large part to better treatment, and detection), Cancer Research estimates that 1 in 2 people in the UK born after 1960 will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men, Prostate Cancer U.K suggests 1 in 8 men will be diagnosed within their lifetime. If there is a chance life may give you lemons, wouldn’t it be a good idea to be proficient in squeezing your own lemonade?
So why are the contents of our knickers not ‘ripped’ (so to speak)?
I am not really sure of the answer to this, but I reckon a lot of it is simply down to cultural taboo, and habit. Working your pelvic floor is something that should be part of our daily routine like cleaning your teeth. We should be teaching its benefits in sex education classes, or as a part of P.E classes, putting up with embarrassed teenage chortles. I don’t remember anyone talking to me about it until pregnancy, by which stage I was a little preoccupied with actually having a baby and it didn’t feel like my number one priority. Once I had given birth, I was so traumatised by the experience that even the whisper of pelvic floor would make me need to lie down in a darkened room for half an hour. I once lay down in a bush and hid during a jog Scotland session rather than tell anyone I had perhaps come back a little too soon after childbirth and was suffering a bout of pelvic floor related hypochondria. As we age it can simply end up being something forgotten, until post-menopause when we then wish we had focused on it a little more but are too embarrassed to warn our daughters and friends.
Or we simply don’t know how easy it is to remedy, or how to do it. The good news is, that significant improvements to your pelvic floor can be made in a relatively short time.
It can be a tricky technique to master. Particularly when sharing notes on pumping our pelvic muscles is not considered polite dinner party conversation.
Learning the dark arts…
As part of the CanRehab training, we were asked to split into (mixed gender) break out groups to teach each other pelvic floor exercises. This was in part to break down the fear of discussing it openly, and also to share teaching tips on what can be a very creative, if not a bit of an elusive practice.
My favourite suggestions were imagining you were hoovering kidney beans into various different locations and tightening in a Mexican (or Brazilian?) wave from back to front. For younger men, one of the tutors very enthusiastically suggested balancing a flannel on yourself and lifting it up and down like lifting weights. Those who mastered this could maybe build up to a small hand towel.
If forgetting is a barrier for you there are apps that can be downloaded, such as the NHS Squeezy App, which pings you little reminders three times a day.
One thing is clear, we need to break our reticence to talk about pelvic floor and build it into a part of our healthy routines. Tightening our collective knickers and braving up to shout from the rooftops: Lady (and gentleman) love your pelvic floor.