Pelvic floor health has become a trendy topic in the wellness world as of late, and many products are popping up on the market claiming to improve your pelvic floor. However, not all pelvic floor-related items were created equally; some may even be harmful.
HuffPost spoke with experts about all things pelvic floor health, including how to tell what products are worth the hype, who can benefit from them and when to consult a medical professional.
Understanding Your Pelvic Floor Muscles And Health
Alexandra DiGrado, a doctor of physical therapy and the founder of Boston Pelvic Physical Therapy, explained that the pelvic floor muscles “run like a hammock from your pubic bone in the front of your pelvis to your tailbone in the back, down at the lower part, and they surround the anus and the vagina.”
These muscle do much more than you think: The muscles maintain continence, allow you to relax and contract during an orgasm, and support your organs to prevent pelvic organ prolapse.
Unfortunately, pelvic floor pain and dysfunction affects people of all genders. “Currently, nearly a quarter of all women in the U.S. experience a pelvic floor issue,” said Emily Hu, an OB-GYN and chief medical officer at Evernow, a telemedicine platform that provides customized treatment for menopause. “Pelvic floor dysfunction can have a strong negative effect on quality of life. Beyond the discomfort and mobility issues, women can experience incontinence and even sexual dysfunction.”
Given the vital role the pelvic floor plays in overall health, it’s no surprise that people are expressing interest in commercially available items for the pelvic floor. However, there is no-one-fits-all device when it comes to pelvic floor health.
So, how do you decide if a pelvic floor product is right for you? Experts agree the most important thing to do before buying any item is to schedule a consult with either a pelvic floor health physical therapist or a urogynecologist — a gynecologist who specializes in pelvic floor disorders — when possible. This consultation can even be performed via telehealth.
An expert can help you determine whether or not you have underactive or overactive pelvic floor muscles. People with underactive pelvic floors or muscle weakness may experience symptoms such as urinary leakage, incontinence or organ prolapse. While muscle weakness is a more commonly discussed health issue, it is also possible to have a hypertonic (aka overactive) pelvic floor. This can cause constipation, difficulty urinating, pain during sex and other serious symptoms.
Products For The Underactive Pelvis
In limited cases, biofeedback devices can be a useful tool for at-home pelvic floor training and assessing muscle activity.
“Typically, the biofeedback devices are better for clients with underactive pelvic floor. There’s less concern for painful insertion of an intravaginal device with underactivity than overactivity,” said Carrie Pagliano, a board-certified pelvic floor clinical specialist and American Physical Therapy Association spokesperson.
Pagliano and other pelvic floor experts still say to proceed with caution when looking into biofeedback devices, as they are not always user-friendly.
“Products that provide biofeedback could still be registering the contraction as ‘correct,’ when in fact the person is [incorrectly] bearing down,” said Tara Sullivan, a pelvic floor specialist.
Though it’s best to consult a pelvic floor expert before adding a biofeedback device to your shopping cart, Pagliano told HuffPost that these products are beneficial for people who don’t have access to regular individualized care. The Elvie Trainer and the Intimina KegelSmart are two well-known options.
What’s more, kegel weights are a commercially available product that can be valuable when utilized by certain people who are looking to strengthen their pelvic muscles. While kegel and vaginal weights are probably the most notable items for your pelvic floor, Pagliano said she only recommends medical-grade weights to a few clients every year.
“Kegels are not the end all be all for our pelvic health. They could actually be really counterproductive and even contribute to pain,” said Marina D. Castellanos, a pelvic floor physical therapist and host of the podcast ”Pelvic Matters.”
Products For People With An Overactive Pelvis
For people with a hypertonic pelvic floor, the best devices are those that focus on alleviating tightness, rather than strengthening.
According to DiGrado, pelvic floor muscles can develop trigger points, tight spots or even adhesions and scar tissue that cause pain. In this case, physical therapists and urogynecologists sometimes recommend medical-grade pelvic wands like the ones made by Intimate Rose or dilators. These intravaginal devices can “release excess tension,” said DiGrado, which may improve overall muscle function for people with overactive floors.
Further, DiGrado noted that expert-approved products such as Ohnut’s buffer rings are beneficial for people experiencing painful penetrative sex due to pelvic floor issues. These rings work by adjusting the depth of penetration, making sex more comfortable.
There is one product that experts agree most everyone can benefit from using: The Squatty Potty, or any footstool made for use while pooping. Castellanos explained that “using a footstool for bowel movements helps everybody to eliminate a little more easily,” which in turn has a positive impact on your pelvic floor health.
The Pelvic Floor Products Everyone Should Avoid
Oppositely, there are products that pelvic floor physical therapists say you should avoid altogether. Flavored and stimulating lubricants can upset the natural pH balance of the vagina, which can also cause greater issues related to the pelvic floor.
“If the vagina is irritated, the muscles can start to get tired and this leads to pelvic pain,” DiGrado said. “Looking for water-based, paraben and glycerin-free lubes can be tremendously helpful.”
On a similar note, vaginal wipes and cleansers can also irritate the vagina, which may lead to pelvic floor-related health issues. Sullivan described the vagina as a “self-cleaning oven,” meaning it’s best practice to wash with water only.
Generally speaking, DiGrado said it’s good practice to check and see if any pelvic floor specialists are endorsing a device before clicking the “confirm your purchase” button.
When To See A Pelvic Floor Physical Therapist
Castellanos explained that it’s important to integrate healthy habits into your daily routine to maintain pelvic health. This includes drinking enough water, utilizing deep breathing to relax the pelvic muscles, and keeping active throughout the day. Trying to improve your pelvic health at home can work, but the DIY route is not always the best option. If you’re experiencing excess pain or any symptoms associated with an overactive or underactive pelvic floor, it may be a sign to seek out medical care.
“As the old adage goes, ‘if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,’” Castellanos said of commercially available pelvic floor devices.
Ultimately, popularity shouldn’t be the main factor when it comes to making pelvic floor-related purchases. Before purchasing a product you see in a social media post, try to do some research first, get to know your own pelvic floor and skip the fads for your health.
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