Fitness Tips

Common Signs Your Pelvic Floor Is Too Tight and 6 Stretches To Do if It Is

Photo: Getty Images/ Alexandr Dubynin
It wasn’t that long ago that discussing pelvic floor health outside of a obstetrician’s office was rare. But now, people are talking about the importance of learning how to properly engage and strengthen these muscles for all sorts of reasons like to improve your workouts and stability, bladder control, and even better sex. Up until recently, though, most of the conversation about the pelvic floor’s centered on ways to make yours stronger if you’re experiencing pelvic floor pain or dysfunction. The problem with that is that not everyone’s pelvic floor is weak to begin with. So if you only focus on pelvic floor exercises to make it stronger, like kegels, bridges, and squats, but aren’t doing pelvic floor stretches to help it relax, you may unknowingly be over tightening your pelvic floor.

Like with any muscle, by focusing on just the contraction—and not the extension or stretch—you can reduce the range of motion of your pelvic floor, leaving it imbalanced and less functional than it would be if you were doing both. For optimal health, you need to be able to tighten your pelvic floor muscles and fully release them says physical therapist Kristina Kehoe, DPT, who specializing in pelvic physical therapy. “Learning to coordinate between [engaging] and then relaxing the muscles is important,” she says. “This can play a role in things like constipation or if someone has pain with intercourse.” Ideally, you want to be doing exercises that require you to both activate (or engage) and stretch your pelvic floor regularly.

Here’s the right way to activate your pelvic floor muscles if you’re unsure:

Potential signs that you need to stretch your pelvic floor muscles

According to Dr. Kehoe, pain in the pelvic or vaginal area can be a sign that you need to work on stretching and relaxing your pelvic floor. Other signs of tight pelvic floor muscles include pain during intercourse, chronic constipation, incomplete bowel movements, or feeling like your bladder isn’t empty after you pee.

Finally, Dr. Kehoe says that urinary urgency is often caused by overactive pelvic floor muscles, creating the sensation that you need to pee. “[Any of these symptoms] can be a sign that you should learn to relax or stretch your pelvic floor,” she explains. Consult your doctor before attempting any treatment protocol on your own if you’re experiencing pain and discomfort. If you’re generally healthy and just looking for ways to maintain your pelvic floor muscles, adding these stretches into your fitness routine is a good place to start.

6 effective pelvic floor stretches

1. Diaphragmatic breathing

“Diaphragmatic breathing is important to help promote relaxation of the pelvic floor and generalized relaxation to decrease muscle tension,” explains Dr. Kehoe, who adds that it also serves as a gentle stretch for the pelvic floor. “As you inhale and expand the pelvic floor, the muscles are stretched from the inside.”

How to: Find a comfortable position, ideally reclined or lying down with your legs supported and relaxed.
Inhale for a count of four seconds, expanding the belly and ribcage wide as you imagine the pelvic floor opening up and expanding. Exhale for a count of 46 seconds, allowing the belly to pelvic floor to relax back to baseline. Repeat this process for at least 10 deep breaths or up to 5–10 minutes or more.

2. Pelvic rest posture

“This position allows the muscles of the pelvic floor and inner thighs to fully release and relax,” shares Dr. Kehoe. Additionally, “if you’re having pain or recovering from childbirth or a surgery, this position can help to take pressure and strain off the pelvic floor.”

How to: Lie on your back on the floor with your legs supported on pillows or up above you on a couch or chair. Your hips and knees should both be flexed at about a 90-degree angle. Allow the knees to fall out slightly and relax so that no tension is felt in your inner thighs. In this position, work on meditative practices or deep breathing for 5–10 minutes.

3. Happy baby

Dr. Kehoe says that this yoga pose directly stretches all three layers of the muscles of the pelvic floor since they run from your tailbone to pubic bone and attach to either side of your pelvic bone. “Happy Baby pose will also stretch your inner thigh muscles,” she says. “These muscles are often implicated with a tight pelvic floor since they attach near your pelvic floor,” she explains.

How to: Lie on your back and reach for either the outside of your feet ankles, or knees depending on your flexibility. Gently draw your feet out wide to the side while bending your knees toward your armpits and out to the side. Hold this position, allowing the pelvic floor to fully release for 20–30 seconds. Repeat 2–3 times.

4. Child’s pose

“Child’s pose stretches the pelvic floor, back muscles, and buttock muscles primarily and also the inner thighs if you take a pose where the knees are out to the sides,” shares Dr. Kehoe. She says that this is a great pose to not only stretch the muscles but also support generalized relaxation, and can also be used as an alternate pose to practice deep breathing.

How to: Come onto your hands and knees, bringing your big toes together behind your body. If you’re able to, separate your knees out wider than your shoulders. If that is not comfortable, bring your knees together. Sit your hips back toward your feet as you reach your hands and arms forward in front of your body, lowering your chest and resting your forehead and forearms on the floor.
(Option to place a pillow or rolled towel under your forehead for comfort.) Find ease in this position by allowing the inner thighs to relax and pelvic floor muscles to release, and hold this pose for as long as needed to achieve a sense of relaxation.

5. Deep squat

Holding a deep squat stretches the glutes, hamstrings, adductors (inner thighs), and pelvic floor muscles, and it can be a particularly great stretch to prepare for childbirth. Dr. Kehoe has a few tips for performing this exercise. “It’s important to have a supportive surface to hold onto so that your muscles don’t actually tense up trying to stabilize in this stretch,” she advises. “Gravity can help in this position to really feel a release and expansion of the pelvic floor.“

How to: Stand in front of a table, counter, or chair with your feet slightly wider than hips-width apart, toes slightly turned out. Tuck your tailbone and bend your knees to sink toward the floor, like you’re sliding your back down a wall, while holding onto the surface in front of you. Hold this position for 30–60 seconds. Repeat 2–3 times.

6. Butterfly stretch

This popular stretch the muscles along your inner thighs that attach at the pubic bones. Dr. Kehoe says that many people with pelvic floor tightness also have tension and trigger points in these muscles, so stretching the inner thighs can subsequently help alleviate pelvic floor tension.

How to: Start seated with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Bring your soles together and let your legs open wide to the sides like a book, allowing your outer thighs to rest on the floor. If you need more of an intense stretch, gently press the knees down with your hands or elbows and lean forward. To decrease the intensity, place pillows or blankets under your knees. Hold the stretch for 30–60 seconds. Repeat 2–3 times.

The takeaway

If you’re suffering from tight pelvic floor muscles, Dr. Kehoe says it’s important to incorporate general relaxation of the pelvic floor muscles along with the strengthening exercises you do. “I think it’s easy to work on both, as many stretching positions are good positions to practice deep breathing,” she explains. “Relaxing the muscles should feel like an opening up or bulging sensation in the pelvic floor muscles. Stretching, however, should not ever be painful but should feel like a gentle tension and stretch without pain.”

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