What is the pelvic floor? The pelvic floor is all the muscles, plus the nerves controlling the muscles, plus the tissues -- called fascia -- that connect everything together, plus the ligaments that link bone to bone and bone to organ that are attached to the front, back, and sides of the pelvis, from the pubic bone in the front of the body all the way back to the tailbone. These muscles, nerves, tissues, and ligaments sheathe the floor of the pelvis and together act like a sling or hammock to support the pelvic organs -- the urinary tract, digestive tract, and reproductive organs -- including the bladder, the uterus (or in men, the prostate), and the colon.
This is an essential part of your body's core, the center of gravity in your frame, the place where movement originates -- in a sense, the seat of raw power in your body. Eastern religions attribute spiritual as well as physical significance to this part of the body, seeing it as the place where the vital energy of your life force resides.
In much of Hindu tradition, it is the coiled serpent of Kundalini, waiting to be awakened into energy. In Chinese culture, the pelvic floor is the home of chi, the life energy that must flow freely in our bodies in order for us to remain healthy. In Japanese martial arts, it is the hara, the vital center of the self -- located just three fingers below the navel and three fingers inward toward the spine. The recognition of this vital life force is at the heart of spiritual practice in these traditions, and it is the focus of the physical exercises that invariably accompany such practices.
Western scientific research confirms that a strong and healthy pelvic floor at the core is essential to overall health and fitness. It's critical to feeling good. It's key to that sense of physical vigor that is so important to your sense of well-being.
All the muscles of the pelvic floor work together to support the pelvic organs and to assist in bladder, bowel, and sexual function and with trunk stability and mobility. But each muscle also has its specific individual role.
The pelvic floor has two parts. The upper part comprises the superficial layers of the pelvic floor. The muscles here constitute the urogenital diaphragm, also known as the urogenital triangle because the muscles form a triangle. These muscles are the bulbocavernosus, ischiocavernosus, and the transverse perineum, all of which assist in orgasm and bladder control in both men and women.
The lower part of the pelvic floor, sometimes called the anal triangle contains all the other muscles of the pelvic floor, all of which are found in the deep layers of the pelvic sling. These muscles include the levator ani, the urethral and anal sphincters, and the coccygeus, piriformis, and obturator internus.
The levator ani muscle moves the coccyx or tailbone. It is made up of the pubococcygeus (an important muscle that assists in orgasm in men and women), the puborectalis, and the iliococcygeus. Both muscles originate at the pubic bone. The pubococcygeus attaches to the coccyx bone, or tailbone, and the puborectalis wraps around the rectum. The puborectalis assists in bowel emptying; therefore, if the puborectalis is tight or spasmed, this might result in incomplete or difficult bowel emptying.
The urethral and anal sphincter muscles assist in bladder and bowel function in men and women.