Rectoceles And Perineal Laxity: What You Need To Know

Andrew Siegel MD  5/20/17

recto copy

Image above: protrusion of the rectum into the floor of the vagina, a.k.a. rectocele (blue arrow); also note catheter in urethra (red arrow) and gaping vagina with scarring of tissues between vagina and anus, a.k.a. perineum (white arrow)

A rectocele is a specific type of pelvic organ prolapse in which the pelvic floor muscles and connective supporting tissue between the lower vaginal wall and rectum weaken, allowing protrusion of the rectum into the floor of the vagina and at times outside the vaginal opening. This not uncommonly follows vaginal childbirth, which places tremendous stresses on the tissues that provide to support of the pelvic organs. Other risk factors for the occurrence of a rectocele are chronic straining, menopause and weight gain.

Rectoceles are also known by the terms “dropped rectum,” “prolapsed rectum,” and “rectal hernia.” The most common symptom is an annoying vaginal bulge that worsens with assuming the upright position and being active and tends to improve with sitting, lying down and being sedentary. It is often quite noticeable when straining to move one’s bowels. It can give rise to bowel difficulties—most notably what is referred to as “obstructed defecation”—including constipation, incomplete bowel emptying, diarrhea and fecal incontinence. The prolapsed rectum often needs to be manipulated back into position in order to be able to effectively move one’s bowels. Rectoceles can also cause vaginal pressure, vaginal pain and painful sexual intercourse.

Relevant trivia: The word “rectum” derives from the Latin word meaning “straight,” because under normal circumstances the rectum is a straight chute, facilitating bowel movements. The presence of a rectocele causes kinking of the rectum to occur, destroying this anatomical arrangement and making bowel movements difficult without “splinting” the rectum (straightening it out) using one or more fingers placed in the vagina.

Often accompanying a rectocele is laxity of the perineal muscles, a condition in which the superficial pelvic floor muscles (those located in the region between the vagina and anus) become flabby. This causes a widened vaginal opening, decreased distance between the vagina and anus, and a change in the vaginal angle. Women who are sexually active may complain of a loose or gaping vagina. This may lead to difficulty keeping a tampon in position without it falling out, the vagina filling with water while bathing, vaginal flatulence (the embarrassing passage of air) and sexual issues including difficulty retaining the penis with vaginal intercourse and difficulty achieving orgasm. Perineal laxity may result in the vagina “surrounding” the penis rather than firmly “squeezing” it during sexual intercourse, with the end result diminished pleasurable sensation for both partners. The perception of having a loose vagina and altered anatomy can lead to self-esteem and other psychological issues.

Relevant trivia: Under normal circumstances, sexual intercourse results in indirect clitoral stimulation. The clitoral shaft moves rhythmically with penile thrusting by virtue of penile traction on the inner vaginal lips, which join together to form the hood of the clitoris. However, if the vaginal opening is too wide to permit the penis to put enough traction on the inner vaginal lips, there will be limited clitoral stimulation and less satisfaction in the bedroom.

Management of Rectoceles

Rectoceles can be managed conservatively with pelvic floor exercises, behavioral modifications and consideration for using a pessary. Alternatively, surgical treatment, a.k.a. pelvic reconstruction, is often necessary for more extensive rectoceles or for those that do not respond to conservative measures.

Pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT) is useful under the circumstances of mild-moderate rectocele, for those who cannot or do not want to have surgery and for those whose minimal symptoms do not warrant more aggressive options. The goal of PFMT is to increase the strength, tone and endurance of the muscles that play a key role in the support of the rectum and perineum. Weak pelvic muscles can undoubtedly be strengthened; however, if there is connective tissue damage, pelvic training will not remedy the injury, but does serve to strengthen the muscles that can help compensate for the connective tissue impairment. If not completely cured with PFMT, the rectocele and perineal laxity can still be improved, and that might be sufficient.  Chapter 5 in The Kegel Fix book  ( is devoted to a specific PFMT regimen for rectoceles and other forms of pelvic organ prolapse.  Note that if the pelvic floor muscles are torn or widely separated, PFMT will not be productive until surgical repair is performed.

Another component of conservative management is modification of activities that promote the rectocele (heavy lifting and high impact exercises), management of constipation and other circumstances that increase abdominal pressure, weight loss, smoking cessation and consideration for estrogen hormone replacement, since estrogen replacement can increase tissue integrity and suppleness.

A pessary is a mechanical device that is available in a variety of sizes and shapes and is inserted into the vagina where it acts as a “strut” to help provide pelvic support and keep the rectum in proper position. Pessaries need to be removed periodically in order to clean them. Some are designed to permit sexual intercourse.

Surgery is often necessary in the case of a symptomatic moderate-severe rectocele, particularly when quality of life has been significantly impacted. This type of surgery is most often done vaginally, typically on an outpatient basis. Both the rectocele and the perineal laxity are addressed.  The goal of surgery is restoration of normal anatomy with preservation of vaginal dimensions and improvement in symptoms with optimization of bowel and sexual function.  With improvement of anatomy, function often significantly improves, since function often follows form. Difficulties with evacuation, constipation, straining, incomplete emptying and fecal incontinence should improve, if not resolve. There should no longer be a need to splint the rectum and sexual function (for both patient and partner) should dramatically improve with the rebuilding of the perineum.

Marietta S pre-PP

Pre-operative photo–note gaping vulva, exposed vagina, rectocele and perineal laxity; (c) Michael P Goodman, MD. Used with permission


Mariette S 6 wk p.o. PP

Post-operative photo–note closed vulva, unexposed vagina and restored perineum after levatorplasty, vaginoplasty, perineorrhaphy and aesthetic perineoplasty; (c) Michael P Goodman, MD. Used with permission


Wishing you the best of health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

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Dr. Andrew Siegel is a practicing physician and urological surgeon board-certified in urology as well as in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery.  Dr. Siegel serves as Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Rutgers-New Jersey Medical School and is a Castle Connolly Top Doctor New York Metro Area, Inside Jersey Top Doctor and Inside Jersey Top Doctor for Women’s Health. His mission is to “bridge the gap” between the public and the medical community that is in such dire need of bridging.

Author of MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual & Urinary Health

Author of THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health  

Much of the content of this entry was excerpted from Dr. Siegel’s The Kegel Fix: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health (Chapter 5. Pelvic Organ Prolapse)

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