The effect of the pelvic floor muscles on sitting health

The effect of the pelvic floor muscles on sitting health
Kristiina Kokkonen, Expert in Physiatry, emphasizes that sitting position is essential for the overall wellbeing.

It has recently become popular, even trendy, to explore the muscle activity in the lumbar region and stomach. More and more women who have given birth and suffer from urinary problems are seeking physiotherapists’ help, and women have been taught for years to rehabilitate the weakened pelvic floor muscles through exercise. The activity of the pelvic floor muscles, of both men and women, is closely related to how the muscles in the entire middle body function. Less is talked about the excessive tension of pelvic floor muscles that results in functionally same kinds of problems. 

The abdominal and back muscles are involved in the regulation of both the pelvic position and the abdominal cavity pressure. Also the gluteal muscles, the flexors and rotators of the hip participate in this.

The current workload for the body is mostly felt in the pelvis. We bear weight on our pelvic gridle for long periods of time, and the muscles react to this. On the other hand, fierce pace of work is reflected in pressure and stress in the body: the musculature is tense when we concentrate hard and the body cannot recover.

The activities of the tense and loaded muscles are easily disturbed. Weak muscles contract and tighten easily due to external pressure and static muscle work. Muscles begin to get tired, they suffer from lack of oxygen and nutrients, and eventually muscle cells can no longer regenerate. The muscles begin to decay and gather fat.

Excessive muscle tension in the pelvic floor causes increased pressure in the pelvic area and increases the need to urinate. In addition, we unawares start to sit in a position in which there is as little pressure on the pelvic floor as possible.

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When sitting on an unergonomic chair the back becomes rounded when the upper body weight is behind the pelvic gridle and the upper body leans forward to balance the position.

Avoid harmful positions by sitting on a good seat

The shape of the seat affects the formation of pelvic pressure. On a bad chair, the lumbar support is poor and the upper body weight is most often behind the pelvic gridle. The upper body leans forward to balance the position. The result, for example, for a person who works on a computer, is a load on the neck and shoulders, painful lower back and tired hips.

In the current society where we sit so much, the gluteal muscles are weaker than before, as there is less and less natural movement during the work day. Automated work tasks allow long-term sitting at the computer. Communication between colleagues takes place on the screen and getting up from the chair every 15 minutes decreases. The deterioration of physical fitness increases the variety of health risks that have recently been described as lethal in the media.

Workplace ergonomics play a key role

Many workplaces already pay attention to static conditions as more and more workers suffer from neck and back problems. Efforts are made to improve ergonomics by enabling work to be done standing, or by providing seats on which the centre of gravity is on the the middle of the pelvic gridle, which decreases the pressure on the spine. 

The position of the hips and lumbar spine are important for pelvic muscle activities. In a good sitting position, there is no unnecessary pressure on the supportive structures of the pelvic area. Tension in the pelvic floor muscles is reduced. Also breathing is easier in the upright position. It is also becoming more and more popular to stand for example during meetings. Improving the ergonomics of the workplace rarely solves the whole symptom load, but it certainly improves the ability to recognize the body's symptoms and reduce them.

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A good seat for the back is a two-part saddle chair that makes it easy to keep the back straight. The spine is in its neutral position and the pressure is on the vertebrae and disks is even.

How do I take better care of my body and have more energy at work?

  1. Exercise to counterbalance sitting. Muscles benefit from dynamic, i.e. pumping movements that enhance muscle recovery and the power properties of cells. There is not always need for great weights to improve muscle strength.
  2. Even if you feel totally exhausted after work, your body may not have been physically strained. Physical exercise is also recovery from thought work, thus maintaining the balance of energy consumption. Exercise improves brain oxidation and recovery.
  3. During the work day, consider the position of your shoulders, shoulder blades and hips. Are your shoulders next to your ears, or even in front of them by the afternoon? Are you sitting in such a way that your body weight is in the middle of the pelvis, or is your upper body as far in front as your knees, in which case the knees are together to support the weight and the heels point outwards? How much do you activate your middle body muscles to support your sitting position?
  4. Do you breathe deeply and steadily? Which is rising, your chest or your shoulders, when you take a deep breath? Do you feel your breathing in the stomach or pelvis? Think about how your middle body muscles would enable more relaxed breathing, during which the pelvic floor and diaphragm move at the same pace.
  5. The most important thing in recovery is the calmness of mind. When life is stressing and you have to deal with difficult and unresolved issues, it is challenging to listen to your body and relax your muscles. Things may have a very unique marching order, and you need to find the things that work for you.

Author: Kristiina Kokkonen, Expert in Physiatry, INTO Terveys, Helsinki, Finland