Exercise and Cancer
Pelvic floor exercises
Your pelvic floor muscles stretch from the bottom of your pelvis and support your bowel and bladder, and your uterus if you’re a woman. Strong pelvic floor muscles also help control urination and bowel movements, normal sexual function, and stability of the abdomen and spine.
Like other muscles, your pelvic floor can become weak. Factors that can contribute to this include age, childbirth, constipation, obesity, chronic cough, heavy lifting, and abdominal or pelvic surgery.
How to find your pelvic floor muscles
To identify your pelvic floor muscles, try stopping your urine stream for a couple of seconds while emptying your bladder. You use your pelvic floor muscles to do this. Another way is to feel the muscles you use when you imagine stopping the flow of urine and holding in wind. This can be done standing, sitting or lying down.
How to exercise your pelvic floor muscles
Pelvic floor exercises should be done several times a day. You can be standing, sitting or lying down. You can even do them while watching TV or waiting at traffic lights. The technique is the same for men and women.
- Start by relaxing all of your pelvic floor and tummy (abdominal) muscles.
- Gently lift your pelvic floor muscles up and hold while you continue breathing normally. Try to hold the contraction for up to 10 seconds. Relax your muscles slowly after each hold.
- Repeat the exercise up to 10 times, with a rest of 10–20 seconds between contractions. Relax your pelvic floor muscles completely during the rest periods.
Seeing a pelvic floor expert
Continence nurses and pelvic floor physiotherapists specialise in pelvic floor exercises. They can assess your pelvic floor function and tailor an exercise program to meet your needs. See a continence nurse or physiotherapist before doing pelvic floor exercises if you:
- have had recent pelvic or abdominal surgery
- have problems with urine or faeces leaking when coughing, sneezing, laughing or exercising
- often need to go to the toilet urgently
- have difficulty controlling bowel movements and wind
- feel like you haven’t fully emptied your bowel after bowel movements
- have dragging, heaviness or a bulge in the vagina
- experience a lack of sensation during sex.
For a list of continence nurses and pelvic floor physiotherapists, visit the Continence Foundation of Australia’s website or call the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66. To find out about exercises that place less stress on your pelvic floor, visit Pelvic Floor First.
This information is reviewed by
This information was last reviewed March 2019 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Prue Cormie, Chair, COSA Exercise and Cancer Group, and Principal Research Fellow – Exercise Oncology, Australian Catholic University, NSW; Rebecca Cesnik, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, ACT; Dr Nicolas Hart, Senior Research Fellow, Exercise Medicine Research Institute, Edith Cowan University, and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Cancer Council WA; Stephanie Lamb, Life Now Project Officer, Cancer Council WA; John Odd, Consumer; Sharni Quinn, Clinical Lead Physiotherapist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Chris Sibthorpe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council Queensland; Jane Turner, Accredited Exercise Physiologist, Concord Cancer Centre, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW.