Pelvic floor dysfunction

What are the pelvic floor muscles?

The pelvic floor muscles are also called levator ani. They are a group of muscles shaped like a bowl deep inside the pelvis. They help people control urine and stool.

They also support pelvic organs:

  • Bladder
  • Rectum
  • Uterus

Why do my muscles become painful?

Muscles throughout the body often respond to pain with contraction or spasm. This is often true for the pelvic floor muscles.

Painful intercourse or vulvar pain sends pain signals to the brain. These cause your pelvic floor muscles to contract for 'protection' against this pain. When this pattern is repeated for weeks, months, or years, your muscles shorten and tighten over time. This helps guard you from pain.

What are symptoms?

Pelvic floor muscle dysfunction can cause:

  • Pain with daily activities such as:
    • Sitting
    • Intercourse
    • Tampon use
    • Pelvic exams
  • Problems with how the bladder or bowel works

How to do you treat it?

You will need to work with a specially trained physical therapist. You will likely be taught exercises to work on at home. Then you will follow-up with your physical therapist.

What is chronic pelvic pain?

It is pain in the pelvic area that lasts more than 6 months. Often this pain happens for more than one reason. So, one diagnosis is hard to find.

The pain can be:

  • Bowel dysfunction
  • Bladder dysfunction
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Altered nerve signals

Many women struggle to cope with the lifestyle changes that happen with chronic pain. Seeking help from a pain psychologist can be helpful.

Many women with chronic pelvic pain have a history of abuse. You can feel safe talking with your provider about this.

Last reviewed: 
May 2020

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