When it comes to relaxing the vaginal muscles, it's important to first identify what the pelvic floor muscles are and what causes them to become tight.
Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles and their attachments that sit like a hammock in between your two pelvic (innominate) bones.
These muscles have three primary functions which include supporting your pelvic and abdominal organs such as your bladder, rectum/anus, and sexual/reproductive organs from falling out of your body, assisting in sexual arousal and orgasm, and controlling bowel and bladder movements. (Grimes)
What Causes Pelvic Floor Muscle Tightness?
Tightness of the pelvic floor muscle can be due to over-activity or increased tone of these muscles also. Overactivity of your pelvic floor can be caused by:
- Failure to relax your pelvic floor muscles throughout the day
- Medical conditions that can lead to pelvic pain including endometriosis, frequent pelvic or bladder infections, chronic pelvic pain, vaginismus, vulvodynia, constipation, and interstitial cystitis (Butrick)
- Trauma or abuse
Your pelvic floor muscles are considered postural muscles that have to work throughout the day to support your pelvic organs and prevent leaking of urine or feces.
Similar to other postural muscles like the trapezius at the top of the shoulders, your pelvic floor muscles are prone to hold tension causing increased tone and tenderness unless these muscles are periodically relaxed or stretched.
Furthermore, medical conditions or experiences that cause pain in the pelvic region may induce increased tone in the pelvic floor as your body tries to tighten up to protect itself.
Unfortunately, this can create a pain cycle where your body feels pain or fears pain, so it tightens up to avoid pain, where this tightness worsens pain and fear, leading to more tightness, and so on.
Pelvic Floor & Vaginal Muscle Relaxation
Preventing and reducing unwanted tension in your pelvic floor muscles through consistent practice of pelvic floor muscle relaxation techniques can help break the pain cycle, reduce pelvic floor dysfunction caused by hypertonicity, and restore the health of your vaginal muscles.
Techniques for PFM relaxation include:
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
This exercise uses your body's natural breathing mechanics to gently stretch the pelvic floor muscles. Your abdominal cavity acts like a balloon when you breathe where the top of the balloon is the main muscle of breathing called your diaphragm, the bottom is your pelvic floor muscles, and the sides are your abdominal and back muscles.
When you breathe in, your diaphragm drops slightly into your abdominal cavity putting pressure on the top of your “abdominal balloon” which will provide a gentle stretch to the pelvic floor at the bottom of your abdominal cavity.
Some adults tend to restrict breathing into their chest cavity only limiting their ability to fully expand their lungs and relax the pelvic floor. To ensure good mechanics, place one had on your chest and one hand on your belly/abdomen when lying down.
When you breathe in, try to breathe into your belly and watch your belly hand move upward while your chest hand stays relatively still. When you breathe out, your belly hand will sink back to its initial starting position.
2. Child’s Pose Stretch
From yoga begins on bent knees. Then, lean forward and fold your trunk over your thighs arms extended overhead and resting on the floor.
This position offers a stretch of the pelvic floor muscles and allows you to practice your diaphragmatic breathing to further improve the relaxation of your pelvic floor.
Yoga is an excellent movement form to learn how to control your breath through mindful practice and it improves your balance and flexibility through stretching in controlled patterns.
3. Pelvic Drop Imagery
Allows you to gain co-ordination and control over your pelvic floor for a release of the muscles. To do it, find a comfortable position, often lying down, and visualize the movement of your pelvic floor.
This can be done during diaphragmatic breathing practice where you can visualize your pelvic floor stretching or descending slightly towards the vaginal opening when you breathe in and slowly raise back up when you breathe out.
This imagery has been shown to improve pelvic floor muscle relaxation, improve your body awareness of the movement of the pelvic floor, and increase your ability to voluntarily relax and contract your pelvic floor muscles when needed during your daily activities.
Role of Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy
Pelvic floor physical therapy (PT) is a specialized form of physical therapy. Common disorders that can benefit from pelvic floor physical therapy include pelvic pain, urinary or fecal incontinence, constipation, male pelvic health, pregnancy and postpartum pelvic health, and pediatric pelvic health according to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).
Pelvic floor physical therapists (PFPT) undergo extra training in assessing and treating disorders of the pelvic floor.
These physical therapists can help determine if you have vaginal muscle tightness and can assist you in learning to relax these muscles using therapy as well as make recommendations for medical devices such as Intimate Rose Vaginal Dilators.
Pelvic floor physical therapy has been proven to be very successful with most disorders of the pelvic floor and is recommended as an initial treatment for these disorders due to the high success rates and limited risk associated with PT treatments. (Wallace)
Learning to relax the pelvic floor takes practice, but with time it allows you to overcome issues of overactive pelvic floor including pelvic pain.
- Vaginismus Exercises
- Intimate Rose Vaginal Dilators
- Do I Have Vaginismus? Signs and Symptoms
- Primary vs Secondary Vaginismus
- 8 Common Causes for a Tight Vagina
- 7 Pelvic Floor Stretches You Can Do at Home
Grimes WR, Stratton M. Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. [Updated 2020 Jun 28]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2020 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559246/
Butrick CW. Pelvic floor hypertonic disorders: identification and management. Obstet Gynecol Clin North Am. 2009 Sep;36(3):707-22. doi: 10.1016/j.ogc.2009.08.011. PMID: 19932423.
Wallace SL, Miller LD, Mishra K. Pelvic floor physical therapy in the treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction in women. Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol. 2019 Dec;31(6):485-493. doi: 10.1097/GCO.0000000000000584. PMID: 31609735.
Medically Reviewed & Published: October 7, 2020