Gut health problems, sometimes called gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, can affect any part of the digestive tract, including the mouth, esophagus, stomach, intestines, rectum, and bladder. The severity and treatment of GI disorders vary widely and depend on specific factors related to each individual.
These concerns might be embarrassing to talk about, but seeking professional help is important for symptom relief and long-term health since untreated gastrointestinal disorders can lead to chronic complications like malnourishment and tooth decay.
Most of us have heard that GI upset can be triggered by things like not eating enough fiber, having a lot of stress, taking certain medications, and becoming pregnant. This article discusses another possible (and often unexpected) underlying cause of gastrointestinal problems: pelvic floor dysfunction.
Keep reading to learn about common gut health complications and how they might relate to the strength, coordination, and alignment of the pelvic floor muscles.
A Quick Review of the Pelvic Floor
The pelvic floor is a group of muscles suspended across the bottom of the pelvis. Their primary job is to support the internal abdominal organs, including the bowels, bladder, and (in females) the uterus and vagina.
The pelvic floor muscles also influence gastrointestinal wellness. For example, the openings of the bowel and bladder (anal canal and urethra) pass through the pelvic floor muscles, allowing digestive contents to exit the body. As such, anything that disrupts the function of the pelvic floor can disrupt the emptying of the bowel and bladder.
Symptoms of Gut Health Problems
According to the National Library of Medicine, these are some of the most common signs and symptoms of digestion problems:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Stomach pain
- Swallowing problems
- Weight gain or loss
Some signs and symptoms of digestion problems indicate a more serious underlying condition, such as internal bleeding, cancer, gallstones, or infection. Seek emergency medical attention if you or a loved one exhibits any of the following issues:
- Bloody stool (feces looks black or tarry)
- Vomit that looks like coffee grounds
- Continuous vomiting
- Severe abdominal cramps
- Sudden unintentional weight loss
Common Digestive Disorders
Usually, a doctor can diagnose a digestive with a medical history, physical examination, and perhaps some additional testing like blood tests or imaging studies. Some of the most common digestive disorders include:
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), sometimes called heartburn or acid reflux, develops when the stomach contents improperly flow upward into the esophagus (the long muscular tube connecting the mouth to the stomach).
A person with chronic constipation has a hard time getting rid of feces from their body. Their bowel movements might be infrequent and painful.
Food intolerance refers to the inability of a person’s digestive system to tolerate a certain food. Food intolerances are different from food allergies, in that they only affect digestion (whereas food allergies can lead to breathing problems, hives, and other symptoms affecting different bodily systems).
Celiac disease is well-known food intolerance and autoimmune disorder. People with this intolerance experience digestive issues after consuming gluten (a protein found in wheat and other grains).
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is characterized by cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, gas, and other symptoms related to dysfunction of the large intestines.
According to the American Gastroenterology Association, as many as 15 percent of Americans live with IBS, but only about half of these people have been properly diagnosed.
Could Your Digestion Symptoms be Related to Your Pelvic Floor Health?
Not all digestion problems are directly caused by pelvic floor dysfunction. But many people who have overactive, tight, or weak pelvic floor muscles will also experience gut health problems, such as chronic constipation or incontinence. Additionally, people with food intolerances, GERD, and other digestion problems might notice that their symptoms get worse after experiencing some sort of trauma or condition affecting their pelvic floor.
A knowledgeable provider, such as a pelvic health physical therapist, can help you determine if and how your pelvic floor muscles are contributing to your digestive problems. Generally speaking, this may be the case if you also have one or more known risk factors for pelvic floor dysfunction, including:
- Older age
- A history of surgery or trauma in the pelvic or abdominal area
- Pregnancy or recently postpartum
- A job or hobby that requires frequent heavy lifting
- Difficult bowel movements
- Chronic coughing
Another clue that your digestion problems are related to the pelvic floor is if you also experience other symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, such as pelvic pain, pain during sex, and pressure or bulging sensation in the rectum or vagina (pelvic organ prolapse).
What Can Be Done For Gut Health Issues
Improving your gut health will positively impact your overall wellness and quality of life. Here are some areas to focus on:
- Improve your diet: drink plenty of water and eat fiber-rich foods like fruits and vegetables
- Minimize stress: get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and ask for help when you need it
- Consult with a pelvic floor physical therapist: a PT can provide manual therapy techniques, prescribe a personalized exercise program to restore the alignment and function of your pelvic floor, and assist with recovery from things like pregnancy or hernia surgery
Are You Worried About Your Gut Health?
If your digestion problems are related to pelvic floor health, physical therapy can help! Contact PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness at (650) 947-8500 to connect with a pelvic floor PT in Los Altos, CA today.
FREE GUIDE: “Everything You Need To Know About Pelvic Floor Physical; Therapy 29 Frequently Asked Questions”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kim Gladfelter, MPT, OCS, FAAOMPT
Women's Health Physical Therapy Specialist at PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness
Kim Gladfelter is a physical therapist, Pilates instructor, educator, author, and co-founder of PhysioFit Physical Therapy & Wellness. She is known as a keen, well-rounded expert of healing through movement and women’s health specialist in the Silicon Valley area.
Kim has helped men and women of all ages to stay active and feel their best. She also writes about managing pain in her health columns, blogs and the local Los Altos Town Crier newspaper as well as reaches out to the local community, support groups, schools, libraries, and sports centers to advise and educate on body awareness and therapeutic exercise.