The Hidden Ways the Holidays Affect Your Pelvic Floor Health

Why The Holidays May Not Be So Happy When It Comes to Your Pelvic Floor (And What You Can Do About It)

As I write this, the holiday season is just around the corner. Time for friends, family, traveling and good food!

But the holiday season is also a time of stress, and stress can have a significant effect on your pelvic floor. People who are stressed “may unknowingly tense their pelvic floor muscles — similar to people who clench their teeth in response to stress,” the Washington Post notes. During the heart of the pandemic, Today covered how stress led to higher levels of pelvic pain, bladder troubles, constipation and painful sex for some.

Then there’s all that sitting — in the car, on the train, on the plane, at your family’s house. Too much can cause a tightening of muscles in the pelvic floor and decreased blood to pelvic floor tissues, according to Oprah Daily. 

If you already have the pelvic floor disorder known as urge incontinence, the last thing you want is to increase your time in the bathroom. Unfortunately, drinks with caffeine and alcohol can make you urinate more. Yes, there might be some trouble a-brewing in those delicious cocktails, coffees and teas!

And what about the food? The holidays, with its focus on dairy, meats and refined carbohydrates like white bread, mac and cheese and sweets, can encourage constipation. Chronic constipation seems to affect those with pelvic floor dysfunction in large numbers – up to 50 percent of people with PFD have it, according to the Mayo Clinic. Furthermore, constipation can cause pelvic floor dysfunction. (Traveling can also lead to constipation from reasons ranging from not drinking enough water to moving less to switching up your routine.)

So what can you do?

Some tips:

  • If you know a family member will cause stress, it’s okay to say that you won’t be able to make the event or to leave early.
  • It’s also okay to say you aren’t up for traveling if you sense it will trigger a flare. You can always postpone a visit until you are doing better or meet somewhere that requires less traveling for you.
  • And it’s okay to ask a host what she is planning to serve ahead of time and if some substitutions or additions can be made. Festive foods that support healthy bowel movements include sweet potatoes and everybody’s favorite, pumpkin. (Ideally, you should be going daily to a few times a week.)
  • Don’t let your physical therapy sessions slide! The holidays are a busy time of year and you may feel less inclined to go to physical therapy, but it’s more important than ever so you can feel your best. If your therapist is on vacation, ask if she can recommend a sub. (And if you’re in the New York area, I hope you’ll consider Revitalize Physical Therapy for your pelvic floor physical therapy needs!)

During the holidays, we are urged to be kind to all the folks we come across, but let’s not forget to be kind to ourselves!

Yoga: A Secret Way to Take Charge of Pelvic Health

What do you think of when you think of yoga? Relaxation? Flexibility? Strength? Balance? Community? Sure, yoga can provide all these things, but were you also aware of the potential benefits to your pelvic floor? 


Surprising but true: Yoga is one of many tools that puts a patient in control of their own recovery, and that is something we love to see as physical therapists! Patients need interventions they can rely on when they are not in our offices. And even though yoga does not involve medicine or a physical therapist’s touch, you can still see big changes. It is such a powerful tool that even Herman & Wallace, a respected pelvic health institution, teaches it.


So what is yoga again, exactly? 


Yoga is a practice that uses breath, meditation and movement. It involves both the mind and the body, and has the ability to lower stress and blood pressure, promote weight loss or maintenance, and improve heart and blood vessel health. So you could be getting a lot of bang for your buck here!


Yoga’s long history


Its roots are deep — it was created over 5000 years ago in India, but yoga as we know and love it today spread in the West by the 1970s. The 1970s was a time, very much like now, when being healthy was popular. The natural food craze hit after the excesses of the 1950s and 60s, and activities like roller skating and jogging were being revived, so yoga fit right in! 


But how can yoga help?


Different poses help in different ways. According to US News & World Report, a squat can feel good if you have pelvic pain or tightness and improve bowel movements, while Yoga Journal reports that Reclining Bound Angle Pose can relax the vagus nerve, which in turn can contribute to the lessening of uncontrollable pelvic muscle contractions.


Where do I go for yoga that will help my pelvic floor?


Finding a good yoga teacher — especially one who understands the connection to the pelvic floor — might be a challenge. You shouldn’t just go anywhere. Your therapist is a great place to start for a recommendation. You can also ask him or her for yoga exercises you can do on your own. It might even be worth it to ask your local hospital. In New York, Northwell Health has created a yoga class for pelvic health, for instance. I personally like Your Pace Yoga, taught by Dustienne Miller, a board-certified physical therapist and yoga teacher, who offers at-home yoga instruction for constipation, vulvodynia, interstitial cystitis and more. 


Now that being said, you don’t want to cause any more pain. And although injuries aren’t super common in yoga, if you have hypermobility, you can have a higher chance of being hurt. Or yoga just might not feel right to you or be something you like to do. Never force it! Take your time. Read about it, like you are doing now! Especially ask your doctor if it is right for you, and come to your own conclusions. 


But once you safely embark on a regimen that includes yoga — along with other treatments from your physical therapist and medical team as needed — you may find yourself that much closer to the end of your healing journey. And as anyone who has recovered from pelvic floor dysfunction can tell you, that is an amazing place to be.