Life After Pelvic Organ Prolapse; What Now? I sometimes find it hard to accept that in 2022 certain women’s health concerns still remain taboo. So many issues are still only whispered about behind closed doors and are considered a dirty little secret. Not because they are, but because in society, no one talks about them, not ever. It’s all still very hush-hush. It is wrong, and things need to change.
I am Esther Stubbs, multi-award-winning specialist physio and founder of the Pelvic Power Movement (Pelvic Power Movement (esther.health)), a free online community that supports women experiencing pelvic floor problems. I have experienced my own pelvic health concerns throughout my life, many of which followed childbirth. Yes, I weed myself. Yes, I experienced prolapsed pelvic organs. And no, I am not embarrassed to talk about it. Why? Because although not normal in any way, these conditions are very common, and thousands of women around the globe are experiencing them. In fact, over 50% of women will experience some form of prolapse in their lifetime. Instead of keeping quiet, I decided to make it my mission to reach and support as many women as possible. And that is why I created the Pelvic Power Movement Community on Facebook (Pelvic Power Movement Community | Facebook), which has now reached over 4K female members.
I need you to know that incontinence and prolapse are not a life sentence, and it is not the end of a happy life…we might just have to make a few tweaks here and there!
But I can’t exercise anymore…I’m struggling with that!
This is a total myth. We can still exercise with any form of leakage or prolapse. It is so much more detrimental if we don’t. Our bodies are not designed to be sedentary for long periods, and when we are, it negatively impacts everything…our posture, core, and pelvic floor. It is also harmful to our mental health not to be active. I have been a physio for over 15 years and learnt that there is only one way to heal, and that is through a holistic approach; mind, body and soul. So, for anyone out there that is worried that their active days are over, then please don’t panic. This myth can be tossed into the bin because it is utter rubbish.
We need to pay more attention to the exercise choices we make, but with the right guidance, many of us can return to the activities we enjoy. And the others? Well, it is the perfect opportunity to try something new. To broaden your horizons and learn new hobbies. But it is rarely, I repeat rarely, the end of an active lifestyle. Many low-impact exercises and even adaptations to more intense HIIT workouts can still build up a good sweat and get those endorphins going. There are options and lots of them. It’s just about better education on it. Sadly, this education is lacking in our society.
What’s good and what’s not?
This is a controversial topic and is difficult to answer, mainly because everyone is different, and our bodies can deal with different things. I am often asked whether it is possible to return to running after experiencing prolapse and whether it is sensible. Well, I did return to running myself, but I felt confident that I had worked on developing a functioning pelvic floor first. I listened to my body. That was key. There is no denying that running may worsen prolapse symptoms. That is the honest answer. Many women return to running too early in their recovery, which can have negative consequences. This is why you must be in tune with your body and understand the signs it is giving you. For many, running is their medicine for so many things, including mental health, and I can only advise on what I feel is the right path forward. So, in summary, it can make prolapse worse, but it can also often be done safely with the right set of tools in the bank.
Let’s look at the facts…
If you feel ready to run (after receiving the go-ahead of a physio – this is crucial), here are a few tips to help you get started safely. They are by no means exhaustive and are intended for general information only. Please consult a health professional such as a women’s pelvic health physio before commencing a return to running.
When running, take small strides and keep your running distance to a minimum. If it feels uncomfortable, then you are stretching too far. Find a pace that works for you and stick with it; I know you want to challenge yourself, but surely, it’s getting back to running that is important, not pushing yourself too much too soon. Building up pace and distance can, for many, be something to focus on later in their recovery – alternate running with less impactful exercises such as walking, cycling, swimming, Pilates and yoga. The world is your oyster when it comes to exercise options. If you are a keen runner, then great, but grab this opportunity to try new things and mix it up a bit. Finally, I would recommend keeping your weight to a healthy level as this reduces stress on the pelvic floor, as does running uphill instead of down. All it takes is a few small tweaks.
But is it possible to be happy again?
Exercise aside, experiencing incontinence and prolapse can come as a huge blow. For me, it felt like I was carrying a massive weight on my shoulders…not to mention down below. It was traumatic in every sense. But I soon learnt, and am now actively educating others, that pelvic health concerns of this kind are way more common than we realise. There is definitely a happy life to be had after incontinence and prolapse. For some, that means not experiencing any symptoms at all; for others, it means only experiencing minor symptoms after specific exercises or at different times of their menstrual cycle. For those with more advanced symptoms, a pessary may help; there are many options to make them feel more comfortable when required. We are all different, but we can all find a recovery plan that creates a happier life for us once again.
My mission is to support women going through something that is still discussed so little. My mission is to educate and encourage those living with pelvic health concerns to seek a better quality of life. I experienced bladder prolapse after the birth of my first child and went on to have two more healthy children. I also now run at least twice a week and remain symptom-free 95% of the time. It is possible, and it is more common than most women realise.
So, when I am asked the question, “Is prolapse the end of a happy life as we know it?” my answer is a big fat NO. It is just the start of a new chapter, one that we must write ourselves. We can all make the change if we are prepared to commit to it. I did, and so can you.
Esther Stubbs, multi-award-winning specialist physio, offers her clients a no-nonsense, straight-talking approach. She is passionate about busting taboos and giving women back the power to heal themselves, particularly after childbirth. As a specialist sports injury and women’s health physiotherapist with over 18 years of experience in this field (and with three children of her own), she has the expertise and first-hand knowledge of these issues.
Esther has built an online community, the Pelvic Power Movement Community | Facebook, of over 4K women who want and need support with pelvic issues, such as prolapse and incontinence. Esther also runs a women’s physio clinic in Ketton, Stamford, UK, Pelvic Power Movement (esther.health).
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