Your pelvic floor muscles are very important to your bladder and bowel health.  The pelvic floor muscles extend from the inside of the pubic bone to the anus and are woven around the vagina, urethra, and rectum, making them look almost like a basket.  These muscles support your bladder and bowel, and can also help improve sexual sensation.

Measuring your pelvic floor strength can be a challenging task without the help of a professional.  But, it is a vital step, as it ensures you are self-aware of the muscles that you are going to be strengthening, and informs you of your “baseline” level of strength prior to beginning an exercise program. It also helps to ensure you are contracting your muscles correctly. 

Below are 3 ways you can assess your pelvic floor muscle strength.  As you perform each exercise, jot down your perceived level of strength on a scale from 1 – 10, with 1 being the weakest and 10 being the strongest.

Take a look.  

This is the easiest way to examine your pelvic floor muscles.  Sitting on the floor, with your back supported, prop your knees up so that your knees and hips are bent.  Using a mirror, take a look at your vaginal and anal area.  Contract your muscles as if you are trying to hold or stop a stream of urine.  As you perform this exercise, you should see your muscles draw inwards and upwards, pulling away from the mirror.

Feel from the outside.  

Lie on your side, with one pillow under your head and another between your knees.   Place your four fingers gently along the line of skin between the base of your spine and your back passage.  Slowly tighten your pelvic floor muscles as you again imagine that you are trying to stop the flow of urine.  This contraction may enable you to feel the area under your fingers tighten and lift.  

Feel from the inside.  

Feeling from inside the vagina is the most accurate way of self-assessing your pelvic floor muscle strength.  To begin, lie on your back or side, and, using a small amount of lubricant, insert your index finger into your vagina.  Slowly bend your finger, and gently press onto the side of the vaginal wall.  Contract your pelvic floor muscle by imagining that you are stopping the flow of urine.  You should be able to feel a squeezing and lifting sensation around your finger. 

If, after performing these self-exams, you were able to see and feel your muscles contracting, congratulations!  You are correctly contracting your pelvic floor muscles.  File your self-assessment ratings away so that you can refer to them in a few weeks.  After you’ve been performing the exercises outlined in the next step for a few weeks, you will want to re-evaluate your strength by giving yourself a second examination.     

If you are not able to see or feel contractions, you may want to visit a physical therapist (PT) specially trained in pelvic floor disorders to assess your strength and ensure that you are performing the contractions correctly.  An examination by a PT is easy and painless, and usually involves a procedure called biofeedback, which uses a sensor to measure muscle activity.  To find a physical therapist in your area, check out the NAFC Physician Locator.

Step 4:  Start Implementing Exercises to Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor