What You Need to Know About Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

Pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) is a condition in which the muscles in the pelvis do not work properly. In this condition, you are unable to have a bowel movement or you only have an incomplete one because your pelvic floor muscles contract rather than relax. This is a treatable condition with the help of biofeedback and physical therapy.

A woman on the floor with pelvic pain
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The Pelvic Floor Muscles

The pelvic floor muscles support various pelvic organs, including the bladder, prostate, rectum, and female reproductive organs. The muscles themselves are also involved in the functioning of the urinary and anal sphincters. When they are functioning normally, you are able to control your bowel and bladder movements by contracting and relaxing these muscles.

In order for the processes of urination and defecation to go smoothly, the various muscles within the pelvis need to act in a coordinated manner. In some cases, the muscles contract when they should be relaxing, or the muscles do not relax sufficiently to facilitate coordinated movement. Problems with the pelvic floor muscles can lead to urinary difficulties and bowel dysfunction. PFD is experienced by both men and women.

Associated Symptoms

The following are some of the more common problems associated with PFD:

  • Needing to have several bowel movements over the course of a short time period.
  • Being unable to complete a bowel movement.
  • Frequent need to urinate, often with starting and stopping many times.
  • Urinary urgency, a sudden need to urinate.
  • Painful urination.
  • Unexplained pain in your lower back.
  • Ongoing pain in your pelvis, genitals, or rectum.
  • For women, pain during intercourse.

Conditions associated with pelvic floor dysfunction include:

  • Dyssynergic Defecation (anismus): This is difficulty passing stool due to problems with the muscles and nerves of the pelvic floor. It can result in chronic constipation.
  • Fecal Incontinence: Loss of bowel control, which leads to the involuntary passage of stool.
  • Chronic Pelvic Pain: This is a chronic type of prostatitis, an inflammation of the prostate in men.


PFD can be caused by injury to the nerves and muscles of the pelvic area through such things as surgery, pregnancy, and vaginal childbirth. In many cases, the cause of the dysfunction is unknown.


Biofeedback is now the most common treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction. It is usually done with the help of a physical therapist and it improves the condition for 75% of patients, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It is non-invasive, and after working with a physical therapist, you may be able to use a home unit to continue with this therapy.

Many physical therapists specialize in this type of treatment. They also may provide relaxation techniques, stretching, and exercises. In the past, it was thought that PFD would benefit from exercises to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, but this has been changed in favor of biofeedback and retraining, which has a high success rate.

Other options include medication with a low-dose muscle relaxant. Surgery may be needed in more severe cases.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jundt K, Peschers U, Kentenich H. The investigation and treatment of female pelvic floor dysfunctionDtsch Arztebl Int. 2015;112(33-34):564-574. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2015.0564

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Pelvic Floor Dysfunction.

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Pelvic Floor Dysfunction: Management and Treatment.

Additional Reading

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.