After Charlie Hoffmeister had her first baby at age 28, her body changed. She started struggling with her pelvic floor — the muscles spanning between the tail and pubic bones, which cradles the organs above it.
Pelvic floor dysfunction after childbirth is a widespread ailment. In fact, one in three women will be affected by a pelvic floor issue at some point in their life. Symptoms can include loss of bladder or bowel control and pain during intercourse, as well as low back or hip pain. And these frustrating symptoms aren’t just limited to people who have recently given birth: Men and women, young and old, can experience pelvic floor dysfunction, with severity ranging from inconvenient to life-altering.
In Hoffmeister’s case, the time she spent recreating outside dwindled, and she wasn’t as able to join her child in play.
“I was annoyed,” she said. “I felt like it really limited my ability to be the adventurous, rock climbing, running person that I had been.”
Although awareness about pelvic floor dysfunction is becoming more common, it’s still a relatively hushed topic. In part, that’s because it centers around a private area of the body, said Brooke Collins, a pelvic floor and physical therapist who started St. Charles’ pelvic floor therapy program more than a decade ago.
Pelvic floor therapy sessions begin with a thorough consultation, including a physical exam, and then center on the unique needs of a patient’s pelvic floor muscles, which either need to be strengthened or relaxed — or sometimes both. The ultimate goal? For the patient to regain control of their body. Pelvic floor therapy helps 97% of patients with stress urinary incontinence, for example, and cures it for 73% of patients.
“When there's dysfunction there, it can affect every aspect of your life,” Collins said. “We're helping people get control back so that their body is functioning the way they want.”
For patients whose muscles are weakened, a program plan will typically include exercises, not just for the pelvic floor muscles but also for the surrounding hip and core muscles. Patients with overly tight pelvic floor muscles will learn relaxation techniques. In both scenarios, practitioners employ biosensors that reflect muscle activity in real-time on a screen, allowing patients to understand better what is happening in their bodies.
Hoffmeister says she felt more confident after just the first session. After returning for another eight-week round of pelvic floor therapy following the birth of her twins, she could lace up her sneakers and get back into running after only six months postpartum. Now, at 33, she has no remaining symptoms, and she encourages anyone struggling with pelvic floor dysfunction to at least have a consultation, even if they ultimately decide against therapy, because it is empowering to learn about how the body works and what is considered normal, she said.
“You’re not alone; it’s very common,” Collins said. “Don’t put up with it, and don’t give the companies that make pads any more money.”
Learn more about the pelvic floor therapy services, which are offered at St. Charles' clinics in Madras, Prineville and Redmond.