If you have been diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse (POP) and you lead an active lifestyle or have a physically-demanding job, chances are good that your lifestyle and/or your job may have contributed to your condition.
Pelvic organ prolapse describes the condition in which one or more of your pelvic organs sags downward, or “falls” out of place. Pelvic organs that can prolapse include the bladder, small intestine, large intestine, or uterus. How many women have POP? Between 43% and 76% of women have POP, but don’t experience any symptoms. Less than 10% of women with POP notice symptoms, such as feeling pressure on the vaginal wall, feeling as if one is sitting on a ball, seeing a bulge falling out of the vagina, urinary incontinence, difficulty urinating, being constipated, low back pain, or feeling pain during sex.
POP and Heavy Lifting
While there are many risk factors for POP, a surprising number of those risk factors are associated with heavy lifting of one sort or another. Pregnancy and childbirth (either vaginal or Cesarean) top the list of factors. If you think about it, pregnancy is one of the most vigorous kinds of heavy lifting a woman can do. Plus, this form of heavy lifting is long-term–about nine continuous months!
Another kind of heavy lifting that can contribute to POP is work-related. If your job requires you to lift, move, or otherwise handle heavy objects on a regular basis, your work may be a big contributing factor to POP. All of this lifting puts pressure and strain on the pelvic organs and their supporting tendons, ligaments, and muscles. When the strain becomes too much, one or more pelvic organs will literally slip out of place, causing the symptoms described above.
Constipation causes straining similar to that of frequently lifting heavy objects. If you suffer from chronic constipation, then you are putting pressure on your pelvic organs several times per day. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for your pelvic organ support system.
Finally, your weight is a consideration. When it comes to your pelvic floor muscles, every pound of weight you carry about your pelvic region exerts a strong downward push. That means your pelvic floor support system has to do “heavy lifting” whenever you are sitting or standing. This is doubly true if you have an active or athletic lifestyle. Bouncing around in an aerobics class adds heavy impact into the equation, more than doubling the strain on your pelvic floor.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce the Risk of POP
If you are at risk for POP because of any of the reasons listed above, it’s not too late to make some lifestyle changes. Simple changes that will help can include:
- lose weight
- change jobs to avoid lifting heavy objects
- increase fiber intake to reduce constipation
- switch from high-impact exercise to low-impact exercise (such as swimming or walking)
- start doing pelvic floor exercises (like Kegels), especially if you have had children
- consider using a pessary to temporarily increase support for your pelvic organs
These are all simple conservative measures that can prevent further sagging of your pelvic organs, and can often relieve symptoms of POP. These measures have almost no side effects, and studies have shown them to be quite effective. POP doesn’t have to consign you to being an armchair athlete. Instead, try these conservative approaches and see just how active you can be. You will be surprised!