Healthy Body

Chronically Sucking In Your Tummy Can Lead To Pelvic Floor Tension

Many people are probably familiar with sucking in their stomach, either to get into a tight pair of pants or to contort their stomach to appear smaller. The truth is that there's nothing wrong with having a stomach of any shape, and when it comes to chronically sucking your tum in, your anatomy isn't really into the action.

"Chronically sucking in your tummy means continuously activating your upper abdominal muscles to make your stomach look flatter," says Chelsea Waldkirch, PT, DPT, a pelvic floor therapist at the Bentonville, Arkansas-based Renew Physical Therapy. "Gripping or squeezing your upper ab muscles changes the function of your core, pelvic floor, and breathing strategies."

In short: Societal pressure might make you think a sucked-in stomach looks better, but the action can affect how your pelvic floor muscles elongate and contract. The pelvic floor is a hammock-like group of muscles laterally resting in your pelvic, beneath your core and abdominal organs. They are essential for supporting your organs from below, controlling how and when you pee and poop, and even sexual pleasure.

How could sucking in encourage pelvic floor dysfunction

Holding your stomach in can impact how the pelvic floor muscles elongate and contract, says Quiara Smith, MOT, OTR/L holistic and integrative pediatric pelvic health and occupational therapist and owner of Aloha Integrative Therapy. Some muscles in your body need to relax for others to work properly. For instance, your torso needs to relax to give you the proper trunk rotation to throw something, and different leg muscles relax at different times to allow you to walk. The same rules apply to the abdominal muscles for a whole host of movements, including breathing, moving, digestion, sexual pleasure, and going to the bathroom, according to Carly Cano, DPT, a physical therapist at the pelvic floor therapy practice FusionWellnessPT in Los Angeles. "The tummy is a popular place for humans to 'suck in,' or hold their tension. Over time, it can turn into a habit and eventually into a chronic state of tension," Dr. Cano says.

Chronic tension can cause excess pressure on your core muscles and your pelvic floor, Dr. Cano explains. "Think about squeezing a full tube of toothpaste in the middle. This will cause the toothpaste to move above and below where you squeeze," Smith says. Something similar happens when you suck in your stomach. By sucking in, you're placing a bunch of pressure on the middle of your core, which, she explains, weighs on your pelvic floor. Over time, Waldkirch says this can weaken the pelvic floor and lead to conditions like general dysfunction, stress incontinence, painful sex, and even pelvic organ prolapse.

Additionally, holding in your stomach impacts your breathing. "When you take a deep breath in, your lungs expand, and your diaphragm drops. Your belly needs to be able to expand to account for the change in pressure inside your body. If your stomach is sucked in, it will be impossible to take deep breaths using your diaphragm," says Waldkirch. Proper breath-form is essential for reducing anxiety levels, lowering cortisol, supporting your immune system, and helping supply oxygen to your muscles. When you're sucking your tummy in, you can prevent your body from getting the full breath it needs. If you're in an anxiety-inducing situation where you might be inclined to suck in your stomach, shallow breathing will not help feelings of distress.

What can you do instead

If you're holding in your stomach a lot, try to remind yourself that there is nothing shameful about your body's shape. If your belly sticks out, that is okay. There's no need to tighten your muscles to force your body to look a certain way. It makes sense to struggle with society's very strict and almost unavoidable pressures about how a body should look. Take a deep breath and see the way your tummy rounds— and remember that's the most human thing you can do. And therefore, one of the most human ways for a belly to look. Additionally, try not to wear clothes that make you feel like an Italian salami. The best solution to having pants that don't fit? Getting pants that do. If you have to suck in your stomach for pants to fit comfortably, that's a sign they're too tight, Waldkirch says.

Trying to unlearn society's beliefs about how a stomach should look can be complicated, and it might require more than discovering that sucking in your tummy isn't great for your health. If this is a tough habit to kick, there's nothing wrong with chatting about body image pressures with a loved one or trusted mental health professional.

 

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