According to health reports, one in four women will develop pelvic floor disorder in their lifetime. The condition affects the pelvic floor, a group of muscles, attached to the pelvis bone, which supports organs including the bladder, uterus, and bowel. Once those muscles weaken or are injured, most commonly during childbirth or menopause, they are unable to function and symptoms such as pain during sex or urination, lack of bladder control, and painful bowel movements can occur. 

Typically, Black women will suffer in silence the most from the illness, assuming that it is simply a normal part of the aging or postpartum process. When they do report the symptoms to a doctor, they are more likely to be dismissed or under-treated due to racial disparities.

If you are experiencing symptoms, Karen Stander, VP Physical Therapy and Women’s Health at Hinge Health advises to seek treatment right away. “When pain is left untreated, there is a risk of developing chronic pain, which is pain that lasts for more than three months. At this point, your brain senses that you are not addressing the sensation, so it “turns up the volume” on the intensity.” She explains, “Now, the same activities that used to cause you minimal to no pain, become unbearable – it’s your brain’s way of telling you that you need to get care. Not surprisingly, this impacts your mental health and how present you can be with your family, friends, or work.”

In addition, pelvic pain can worsen with emotional responses, such as anxiety and fear. Stander says, “The saying, ‘I was so scared that I peed my pants’ illustrates how much these muscles are influenced by emotions. The pelvic floor tends to be an area where we “hold” our stress or tension, the same way you get a neck ache after a long stressful day. There is a whole network of nerves in the pelvic area that connect our brain and thoughts to our muscles, leading to the possibility of stress on those muscles.”

However, the condition is treatable with pelvic floor muscle training which can make a massive difference. Stander details, “There are many options for non-invasive, effective treatment that can substantially increase your quality of life. Addressing your pelvic pain through prescriptive exercise can benefit your ability to hold up internal organs, move with ease and stability, and improve you mind and overall wellbeing. When you learn to manage your symptoms, feelings of helplessness are replaced with a sense of control and confidence.”

Below Stander walks through three exercises you can practice at home on a yoga mat. She recommends ten sets of each move daily.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Image: courtesy of Hinge Health

"This is a form of deep breathing that helps relax and coordinate your entire core, including the pelvic floor to decrease pain and improve muscle function" says Stander.

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. 

Rest one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. 

Now, slowly inhale through your nose as you fill your belly with air so your hand on your belly rises up towards the ceiling. The hand on your chest remains mostly still.

Focus on staying relaxed as you hold that breath in your belly.

Then, slowly exhale through pursed lips, while the hand on your belly lowers with you. 

As you repeat this, you should feel your hand on your belly moving more than your hand on your chest.

Butterfly Stretch

Image: courtesy of Hinge Health

Stander details, "This helps relax your inner thighs and pelvic floor muscles."

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. 

Next, bring the soles of your feet together, and allow knees to fall comfortably toward your sides and to the floor. You should have made a big diamond shape with your pelvis, knees, and feet, and should feel a gentle stretch in your inner thighs. 

Focus on directing breath slowly towards your belly and pelvis as you hold this position. 

Then slowly return to the starting position and repeat. 

Happy Baby

Image: courtesy of Hinge Health

"You may recognize this one if you do yoga, or have a six month old baby like I do!" Stander says, "This is a great exercise to open up your hips and help relax your pelvic floor muscles. Happy baby can help reduce pelvic pain, decrease the urge to urinate, and improve constipation."

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. 

Now, draw your knees up towards your chest, and reach your hands to grab the outside of your feet or ankles. 

Then, while still holding onto your feet, move your legs gently apart, stopping when you feel a gentle stretch in your inner thigh muscles and hips. You can rock gently side to side. Recognize the happy baby?

Breathe deeply and slowly. Focus on relaxing your pelvic floor muscles, as you hold this position.

Then relax back to the starting position and repeat.