Contrary to common belief, tightness does not equal strength. Tightness goes hand in hand with weakness, and just like any other muscle in the body, tightness in the pelvic floor inhibits its normal function. Also, tightness in the pelvic floor brings on a separate set of symptoms than just being weak. Since the pelvic floor is so internal, it can be difficult to know what's going on with it, but there are a set of symptoms that give us a clue as to whether or not it might be not only weak, but also tight.
Here are some of the most common symptoms of a tight pelvic floor. If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, there's a good chance your pelvic floor could benefit from some targeted release techniques:
You know that feeling when you put the key in the door and all of a sudden you're hopping up and down, not knowing if you will make it on time?
Essentially this is happening because tightness in the pelvic floor is putting pressure on the bladder, causing bladder contractions to be triggered at the wrong times, no matter how much urine is in the bladder.
Pelvic floor tension can make penetration difficult because the pelvic floor muscles surround the vagina. If they are tight, they can make it very difficult for anything to pass through. A tight muscle often means a muscle that won't let go. In order to be able to allow ease of insertion, the pelvic floor muscles must be able to relax. Failure of the pelvic floor to relax can elicit a pain response in the muscles that are trying to be stretched.
Tailbone (or coccyx) pain is typically related to tight posterior pelvic floor muscles. The pelvic floor attaches to the pubic bone in the front, and the tailbone in the back. So when the back part of the pelvic floor is tight, it can pull the tailbone further under. Since the tailbone is essentially the base of your spine, it can cause pain when you try to untuck it, i.e., stand up.
When the pelvic floor is tense, it can be difficult to tell it to let go. Relaxing the pelvic floor is required to allow pee or poop out. Since it can be difficult for a tight muscle to let go, you might end up straining to eliminate, feel like you didn't get all the poop out, or leak a little when you stand back up.
When a muscle is tense, it can bulk up and take up more space. If the pelvic floor muscles are tight, they can cause the sensation of downward pressure. Have you ever been for a run or done a high-impact workout and felt like your insides might fall out?? This downward pressure can contribute to the sensation of a pelvic organ prolapse (when the bladder, uterus, or rectum drop down and put pressure on the vaginal wall).
A UTI can cause the pelvic floor muscles to tighten or "guard" in response to pain. With repeated infections, the pelvic floor muscles become tighter and tighter, which affects the bladder's ability to fully empty, making another infection more likely—a catch-22. Additionally, tight pelvic floor muscles can mimic UTI symptoms in the absence of an infection, causing vaginal pain or burning. This means that if you're experiencing discomfort and urinary symptoms that resemble a UTI but have no infection, your pelvic floor could actually be the source of the issue.
A tight pelvic floor can have many causes, including but not limited to poor posture/alignment, overuse (such as too many Kegels), birth trauma, sexual trauma, scar tissue, weakness, clenching, nerve damage, the list goes on. Treating a tight pelvic floor typically requires more than stretching, because remember that a tight muscle is also a weak muscle, and stretching an already weak muscle will make it worse. So, in the short term, we need to get some release to get the muscle moving. But in the long term, we also need to strengthen. So stretch your pelvic floor to get some release. But once you start getting good movement in your pelvic floor, it's also time to start strengthening because more strength = more flexibility.
If you're unsure whether you're dealing with a tight pelvic floor, you can do an assessment with a pelvic floor physical therapist who will give you an official diagnosis. This link will help you find a provider near you.
In the meantime, here are some of my favorite pelvic floor release techniques:
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