As we live through the information age, there is unprecedented access to more health information than ever before. The downside of “doctor google” is feeling afraid that we will get every negative outcome. One example of this is pelvic organ prolapse–or “POP” for short.
Pelvic organ prolapse used to be something that people would learn about only once they were symptomatic and were ready for active treatment. As a pelvic floor physical therapist, I’m so glad more and more people in their birthing years are aware of pelvic organ prolapse because we can do quite a bit to prevent how much prolapse you have. However, I’m never a fan of scare tactics.
What is Pelvic Organ Prolapse?
Let’s start with some facts.
- Fifty (50)% of women have some amount of pelvic organ prolapse on examination.
- Having a small amount of pelvic organ prolapse is often asymptomatic or not noticeable or harmful.
- Pelvic floor muscle training can help reverse and reduce pelvic organ prolapse and symptoms.
- Women with pelvic organ prolapse often have less muscle strength than those who don’t.
Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP) is the descent of one or more of your pelvic organs: bladder, bowels, or uterus. POP can include just one or multiple organs. POP occurs because of the over lengthening of your pelvic ligaments and weakness of the pelvic floor muscles. During pregnancy, your pelvic floor muscles are pushed downward, and the weight of your growing baby stretches your ligaments. The development of POP is also influenced by occupational lifting and constant straining to have a bowel movement.
What does POP feel like?
The most common descriptions of POP are:
- Fullness or the feeling of a full tampon
The most likely time to feel POP is near the end of the day after you’ve been on your feet for a while, after heavy lifting, or high-intensity exercise.
Do I need surgery?
The short answer is: usually no! There are tips below to help heal. Pelvic floor physical therapy has been shown to help lift your organs and reduce how much heaviness you feel. However, some people may need surgery if their prolapse is significant. Even if you are headed to surgery, pelvic floor physical therapy can help prepare you and help you heal afterward.
How can I help prevent or heal POP?
Pelvic Floor Strength
A strong, well-coordinated, pelvic floor is key to helping with pelvic organ prolapse. Pelvic floor physical therapy can teach you how to perform a kegel correctly — 50% of women perform Kegels incorrectly — to help keep your organs lifted. Well-coordinated means that you are not only performing a kegel but performing them correctly and fully relaxing afterward.
Your posture can affect how much downward pressure you have on your pelvic floor. Whenever I say “good posture,” people immediately sit up way too tall and throw their shoulders back: that is exaggerated “good posture.” What I mean is neutral posture, where your shoulders are balanced over your ribs, and your ribs are over your hips. Quick note: you cannot hold perfect posture forever, please don’t expect yourself to be in neutral posture all of the time!
Holding your breath while performing everyday tasks like lifting your little ones can produce more downward pressure on your pelvic organs. Just like with weight lifting, try exhaling on exertion–breath out– during the most challenging part of a motion.
If you feel pelvic heaviness, taking pressure off your pelvic floor and pelvic organs can be a great relief. Try laying down with your knees bent and a pillow under your bum in a supported bridge position to relieve the pressure.
Pelvic Floor Specialist
A pelvic floor PT can help you with all of those factors: making sure you can perform a kegel correctly, you have good neural posture, you know how to breathe optimally, and you know the best relief positions for your body.