Pregnancy and childbirth are an experience unique to women. Unfortunately, this puts many women at risk for something called “pelvic floor trauma” during labor and delivery. Sometimes pelvic floor trauma cannot be avoided and is a natural part of the birthing experience. Other times, however, it can be caused by physician negligence, either during childbirth or during follow-up care.
What is the pelvic floor?
The pelvic floor (in women) refers to the group of muscles, ligaments, and tissues that support the bladder, uterus, and rectum and help control urination and bowel movements. It also plays a role in sexual function and childbirth. Weakness or damage to the pelvic floor can lead to urinary or fecal incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and other related issues.
The pelvic floor is made up of several muscles, including the pubococcygeus (PC) muscle, the iliococcygeus muscle, and the coccygeus muscle. These muscles are interconnected and form a hammock-like structure that supports the pelvic organs. It also includes several ligaments, including the sacrospinous ligament and the sacrotuberous ligament, which attach to the pelvis and provide additional support to the pelvic organs.
What happens during pelvic floor trauma?
Trauma occurs when any of the nerves, muscles, and ligaments of the pelvic floor are damaged and the floor becomes weakened. Columbia University Irving Medical Center reports pelvic floor dysfunction affects the lives of over 28 million Americans. One of the most common pelvic floor disorders is pelvic prolapse, which “occurs when the pelvic muscles and other supporting tissues becomes weak, which causes the organs in the pelvis to fall out of place.”
They also note that nearly one-quarter of women suffer from pelvic floor disorders, and these disorders affect about:
- 10% of women aged 20 to 39
- 27% of women aged 40 to 59
- 37% of women aged 60 to 79
- 50% of women aged 80 and older
Although pelvic floor trauma and dysfunction can be caused by a variety of factors – a car accident, heredity, or advanced age – often pregnancy is the main culprit.
What are the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction?
The Cleveland Clinic notes three common types of pelvic floor dysfunction:
- “Trouble evacuating (releasing) a bowel movement.
- An incomplete bowel movement.
- Urine or stool that leaks.”
Patients may also feel:
- Pain or pressure in the rectum
- A heavy feeling in the pelvis
- Muscle spasms in the pelvis
These symptoms can have a grave effect on a person’s quality of life.
How does pelvic floor trauma occur?
During pregnancy, the weight of a growing fetus and the stretching of the uterus can put pressure on the pelvic floor muscles and ligaments. Additionally, during delivery, the baby’s head must pass through the pelvic floor muscles, which can cause more stretching and trauma to the tissues. Both of these can result in weakening of or damage to the pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to issues like:
- Urinary incontinence
- Pelvic organ prolapse
- Tears in the pelvic floor muscles
- Sexual dysfunction
All of this can contribute to pelvic floor dysfunction.
Can a doctor cause pelvic floor trauma?
Yes. Pelvic floor trauma can also occur due to medical malpractice during labor, delivery, and childbirth. Some examples of medical malpractice that can lead to pelvic floor trauma include:
- Failure to diagnose or treat conditions that can lead to pelvic floor trauma, such as a large baby, breech position, or placenta previa
- Improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors during delivery, which can cause tears in the pelvic floor muscles
- Excessive or prolonged pulling on the baby during delivery, which can cause stretching and damage to the pelvic floor muscles
- Improper suturing of tears or episiotomy, which can lead to pelvic floor dysfunction
- Failure to recognize or address signs of distress in the baby, which can lead to emergency interventions that increase the risk of pelvic floor trauma
Are there treatments for pelvic floor trauma?
There may be treatments, both surgical and non-surgical, depending on the extent of the injury. The Cleveland Clinic notes treatment may include pelvic floor exercises, physical therapy, behavioral modifications, medication, or biofeedback. In severe cases, like in pelvic organ prolapse, doctors may recommend surgical intervention.
The International Urogynecologial Association reports:
Direct repair of tears to the pelvic floor muscle is in its infancy and only offered in the context of research studies. Direct repair of anal sphincter muscle tears is commonly performed immediately after childbirth… but sometimes this is also done later in life in women with anal incontinence. However, prevention is much more effective than repair.
If this has happened to you or a loved one, we advise speaking with an experienced Kentucky medical malpractice lawyer before you suffer one more moment of pain and inconvenience.
The Kentucky injury attorneys at Wilt Injury Lawyers cares about those who have suffered injuries at the hands of medical professionals. We want justice for your pain and suffering, and will work to secure financial compensation on your and your family’s behalf for the harm caused by a medical professional. Let us help you – we want to hear about your case. To schedule a free consultation, please call us or fill out our contact form. We maintain offices in Lexington and Louisville, and proudly serve clients throughout Kentucky.