When you hear the words “pelvic floor exercise,” you probably instantly think of kegels, which are sometimes used to strengthen weak pelvic floor muscles. But when you have pelvic floor muscle tightness (aka an 'overactive' or 'hypertonic' pelvic floor), kegels can actually make your symptoms worse.
A better strategy for treating tightness is to focus on exercises that relax and promote movement in the pelvic floor.
If you think you might have a tight pelvic floor (find out the 10 signs to look for), it's important to see a pelvic health physical therapist. Your PT will get to the root of your symptoms and work with you to create a comprehensive and individualized treatment plan.
Wondering which exercises can be used to relax your pelvic floor? Below are 5 moves that PTs often recommend to restore flexibility and function to an overactive pelvic floor.
5 Ways to Relax Your Pelvic Floor
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Your diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles are naturally coordinated. Use this deep breathing exercise to encourage movement and flexibility in your pelvic floor, while easing pain by soothing your nervous system.
- Lie flat on your back in a comfortable position.
- Place your hands beneath your ribs or on your belly.
- Inhale, feeling your abdomen expand outward and into your hands, pelvis and back as your lungs fill with air.
Tip: With each inhale, imagine your pelvic floor lengthening like the bottom of a balloon as it inflates with air.
- Exhale, allowing your belly to gently recoil back towards your spine.
2. Child’s Pose
Release your entire spine from your neck to your tailbone with child's pose. Your pelvic floor will thank you!
- Start on your hands and knees with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips.
- Separate your knees so that they are slightly wider than hip-distance apart.
- Sit back on your heels and stretch your arms out in front of you.
- Hold this position and breathe, feeling your belly expand as you inhale, and relax inward toward your spine as you exhale.
Tip: As you relax fully, you may feel a stretch in your groin, hips, back, and pelvic floor.
3. Reclined Butterfly Stretch
It can be helpful to encourage blood flow to muscles surrounding the pelvic floor. Try this inner thigh release:
- Begin lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Place the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to fall away from each other and towards the floor until you feel a stretch in your inner thighs.
Tip: Try not to allow your lower back to arch away during this stretch.
- Hold this position and breathe.
Tip: Place pillows beneath your knees so that your inner thigh muscles can fully relax.
4. Low Back Rotation with Stability Ball
Encourage movement and blood flow in your back, abdomen, and pelvis with this feel-good stretch.
Lie on your back with both knees bent to a 90-degree angle and your feet resting on top of a stability ball.
- Extend your arms out the sides forming a "T' position on the ground.
- Keeping your knees together, roll your legs to one side, feeling your pelvis and spine twist towards that side.
Tip: Keep your shoulders in contact with the ground throughout the exercise.
- Engage your lower abdominal muscles, pulling your belly button in towards your spine, then slowly return your legs to the starting position.
Tip: Exhale as you bring your legs back to the starting position to avoid breath-holding.
- Repeat in the other direction.
5. Pelvic Floor Release on Stability Ball
Gently release muscle tension and soften scar tissue with this exercise.
Note: only consider this exercise after your perineal scar has fully healed and you have been cleared by your healthcare provider for scar massage. This exercise should never be painful!
- Sit on a stability ball with both feet planted on the ground in a wide stance.
- Place a small massage ball or rolled washcloth between your perineum and the stability ball.
Tip: Your perineum is the space between your vaginal and anal openings.
- Begin making slow hip circles on the stability ball, feeling the massage ball or washcloth gently massage the perineum with this motion.
- Take deep breaths and relax the pelvic floor while performing the circles.
Always keep in mind: The bowel, bladder, and sexual symptoms that are common in those with pelvic floor muscle tightness can occur for a number of reasons so it is always important to rule out any new or persistent symptoms with your healthcare provider first, and then seek care from a pelvic physical therapist to help fully heal your pelvic floor.