And here's the problem: precisely because the pelvic floor muscles are so closely interconnected, any kind of disorder anywhere in the pelvic floor can have an impact on any or all of the pelvic floor's other functions. You might strain a muscle during a gym workout and find that you are having a hard time fighting urinary urgency and a painful time having sex with your partner—all from a spasm suffered during spinning class! This is the heart of the matter: one pelvic floor dysfunction may lead to another. And another. And still another. One disorder anywhere might therefore cause disabling pain, incontinence, urinary and bowel retention, and sexual dysfunction—often, all at once.
What's more, since the pelvic floor connects our upper and lower body, a dysfunction in the floor can, unfortunately, affect both upper and lower body. I've treated patients for pelvic floor disorder who then reported that their foot pain or back pain disappeared with the treatment. The reason? Pain from their pelvic floor had radiated downward or upward to affect these other areas of the body.
In fact, that's typical. All those muscles, nerves, tissues, and ligaments networked together in support of the pelvic organs simply turn into speedy highways for the pain from a pelvic floor dysfunction. What starts at the core is soon cascading every which way throughout your body. That's why so many people who suffer from a pelvic floor disorder feel a combination of symptoms, and it's why their suffering may not stop at the pelvic region.
And it's the main reason why pelvic floor disorder is rarely the first thing we think of for the range of symptoms the disorder can prompt. A case of diarrhea may send us to the Pepto Bismol bottle or the gastroenterologist. Vaginal pain prompts us to make an appointment with the gynecologist. And back pain is typically a signal to go see an orthopedist or lie down for a couple of days with some heat and ice.
The problem is compounded by the fact that once in the doctor's office, many pelvic floor disorders are often diagnosed as a problem in the organ. They feel like organ pain even if there's no infection there, and they can mimic organ disorders, so that's what doctors tend to treat, even though the pain is actually radiating out from a dysfunction in the muscle, tissue, nerve, ligament, or all of them.
Wherever it hurts, these dysfunctions can affect the quality of life in the most intimate arenas of life; at their worst, their impact can make the individual utterly miserable every minute of the day.
Think what can happen if the pelvic floor no longer performs its vital functions well. If the organs of the pelvis—reproductive organs, bladder, bowel—are not well supported against gravity and cushioned against pressure, they literally may begin to drop. As they sag, they fail to work properly, and pressure and pain may ensue. Incontinence may result. And finally, surgery may be required.
If the muscles that control the urges and openings for evacuation grow weak or are impaired, the result will be difficulty in either evacuating or retaining—or both. You'll experience strain, bloating, diarrhea, and abdominal and/or pelvic pain. You may suffer incontinence and a range of other urinary and bowel symptoms as well.