Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

A woman’s pelvis contains her bladder, uterus, rectum and vagina. A group of muscles, tissue and ligaments — called the pelvic floor — supports these organs.

When the pelvic floor is working the way it should, it gently supports the openings of the bladder, vagina, and rectum all the time, relaxing when we want to empty the bladder or rectum and holding more tightly when we are exercising, laughing or sneezing. Pelvic floor dysfunction happens when the pelvic floor stops working the way it should.

The pelvic floor can become weakened with age, childbirth, or chronic coughing or straining, and can lead to problems with bladder or bowel leakage, or vaginal bulging (also called pelvic organ prolapse).

The pelvic floor can also become too tense, causing symptoms of pain in the pelvis or vagina, or difficulty emptying the bladder or bowels.

Symptoms and diagnosis

When to turn to us for help

Pelvic floor dysfunction can cause many symptoms, which can be challenging to talk about. Symptoms can occur at any age and most women experience pelvic floor dysfunction at some point in their lives, so you should know you’re not alone.

When you come visit us at the Women’s Pelvic Wellness Clinic, our team will talk with you about your symptoms and how they are impacting your life. We will ask questions about your medical and childbirth history. We will do a gentle physical exam and test the strength and tension of your pelvic muscles. A careful evaluation helps us plan the best treatment for you because you don’t have to live with these types of symptoms. 

Symptoms of pelvic floor disorders

Difficulty moving your bowels or passing stools.

Pain, pressure or burning in your vagina, lower abdomen, tailbone or buttocks.

Pain with sex.

Difficulty urinating or emptying the bladder.

Relaxation of the walls of the vagina downward and outward, so that the pelvic organs may bulge through the vaginal opening.

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A strong urge to rush to the toilet to have a bowel movement or urinate.

Urinary incontinence, when urine leaks out from the bladder when you don’t want it to, can affect women of all ages.

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Individuals with accidental bowel leakage may experience trouble controlling gas and stool. Some have to rush to the bathroom, while others may have accidents without realizing it. Many women with bowel problems also have bladder problems.

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Treatments and research

Treatment to improve your symptoms and quality of life

At UW Health, we can help you address all types of pelvic floor dysfunction. Treatment can reduce symptoms so you can get back to living life the way you want to. Getting treatment may also be important in helping you avoid infections or other complications.

We talk with you about your treatment options and help you choose the ones that will be most comfortable and work best for you.

Early treatment, better results

Our physical therapists can help you learn to relax, strengthen and coordinate your pelvic floor. They focus not just on the pelvic floor muscles but also on the larger muscle groups that can impact pelvic floor function, like the back, abdomen and hips.

Sometimes they use electronic equipment to help you know when you are using the right muscles, a technique called “biofeedback”.

Managing stress can be an important part of the treatment process. We may recommend mindfulness or other therapies to help manage and reduce stress.

Medications that can be inserted vaginally or rectally, or injections to the pelvic floor muscles help tight muscles to relax.

Meet our team

Care that’s specialized, coordinated and personalized

Our team includes:

  • Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery specialists (cross trained in gynecology and urology)

  • Physical therapists who focus on pelvic floor dysfunction. 

They team up to create a treatment plan just for you. They see you in one location, often on the same day. You get expert care that’s streamlined and convenient.

Our providers


Where to find help