How Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Helped My IBS

Help can come in the most unexpected yet obvious ways. Back in August of 2022, I was diagnosed with a condition called vaginismus, which is a painful tightening of the pelvic floor. I sought out help from a pelvic floor physical therapist who happened to rent a room at the Pilates studio where I was working. Like many of us, I had never heard of a pelvic floor physical therapist. I knew there were muscles there, but who would need physical therapy for that? Apparently, me and many other people! So I decided to give it a try.

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Benefits from pelvic floor therapy

I knew the pelvic floor played a big part in how our body gets rid of waste, but I quickly learned just how much it actually does. As my time with the therapist progressed, I began noticing changes not only for my vaginismus but also for my bowel movements. I started feeling a correlation between how tight my pelvic floor was and how easily I was able to pass stool. This knowledge helped me learn how to navigate the tough days, the days when I just can’t get things to move.

Tips from therapy

Here are some of the things I learned during my time in therapy:

*As always, I am not a medical expert or certified trainer. Please consult your doctor, trainer, or other medical professional before trying these or adding anything new to your regimen.

Breathing 

Diaphragmatic breathing has always been a key part of my life, from being a singer to managing anxiety. My physical therapist taught me a breathing count to help relax my pelvic floor. She told me to breathe in for five counts and to tap each of my five fingers as if they were balloons that I filled up with air and then to exhale in the same way. I also found square breathing and the deep breathing I use in meditation helpful as well.

Stretching

Stretching and working on my mobility for my lower body has been helpful not only for my lower back and hips but also for my pelvic floor! It has made it easier to go to the bathroom, especially on days when I feel I have to push more. I will often implement the breathing practices I mentioned above while stretching when I feel like I keep pushing and nothing is happening. This helps relax my whole lower body and allows the stool to pass more naturally rather than forcing it out and causing more pain. Some of my favorite stretches and mobility exercises include:

  • Pigeon stretch or 90/90 stretch
  • Extended butterfly stretch
  • 90/90 hip switches
  • Cat/cow
  • Cossack squat
  • Happy-baby stretch

Internal stretching

The main part of my therapy was internally stretching and relaxing the pelvic floor using vaginal dilators. As with the stretches above, this taught me how to relax my pelvic floor in a whole new way! I was able to feel what it was like internally when my pelvic floor was very tight. Physically, being able to feel the correlation between my pelvic floor tightness and how well I was passing stool taught me how to navigate the sticky days and equipped me with that much more information to add to my toolbox.

Even though I didn't originally seek pelvic physical therapy for IBS specifically, I gained invaluable information and feedback for both of my conditions. If you are interested, I do believe you can go to a pelvic physical therapist specifically for IBS! I am very grateful that I was able to access this type of care and use what I learned to help make my life a little bit easier. I would love to know if anyone has had a similar experience, either with physical therapy or something else!

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