Find out how these pelvic floor exercises can help you.
You may have heard of Kegels — pregnant women are often encouraged to do them to strengthen their vaginal muscles in preparation for birth. But the exercises can do far more than that, for both women and men. If you experience urinary or fecal incontinence (difficulty holding it when you have to go to the bathroom) or pelvic organ prolapse (in which the pelvic organs begin to drop), these may be the exercises for you. Two advantages to Kegel exercises: They’re very easy, and you can do them anywhere, without anyone knowing.
Your pelvic anatomy, or how it all works
Your pelvic floor muscles sit like a sling below your hips, holding up your bladder, rectum, and in women, the vagina, uterus and cervix. A range of circumstances, from pregnancy, chronic cough and extra weight to hysterectomy and even aging, may increase the chances of your pelvic floor muscles weakening. Weakened muscles, in turn, are less likely to be able to hold in urine, gas or feces. The weight of the pelvic organs may also be too much for weakened muscles to hold up.
Studies have shown that people who correctly do Kegels experience short- and long-term improvement in incontinence.
“Kegels are absolutely helpful for people with urinary or fecal incontinence,” says David A. Ginsberg, MD, a urologist at Keck Medicine of USC and professor of clinical urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “They won’t help everybody, but they certainly will help some. If you have extreme incontinence, for example, doing Kegel exercises won’t keep you completely dry, but you can have significant improvement.”
In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists notes that pelvic floor exercises can slow the progression of pelvic organ prolapse.
Targeting the right muscles
To do Kegels properly, you first need to identify your pelvic floor muscles. Here’s how: When urinating, try to stop the flow. The muscles you’ll use are the correct ones for Kegels. (Note: Only use this trick to identify the muscles; don’t actually do the exercises while you’re urinating, as that may cause bladder or kidney damage.)
Another way to identify the correct muscles: Think about which muscles you would use to stop passing gas.
Ready, set, go!
Once you’ve identified the right muscles and how to move them, here’s how to do the exercises:
- With an empty bladder, sit comfortably, lie on the floor or do them while standing.
- Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. Make sure you aren’t also squeezing other muscles, such as those of your stomach, thighs or buttocks. Doing so puts additional pressure on the targeted muscles.
- Breathe normally; don’t hold your breath.
- Hold the squeeze for a count of three. (Over time, you can work your way up to a count of 10.) Relax and repeat, up to 10 or 15 times. This is one set of exercises.
For the best results, do a set of Kegels three times a day, once in each position: lying down, sitting and standing. You can do them in bed, driving and while preparing dinner, to name a few places. More isn’t necessarily better, so stick to this number of Kegels per day. “You don’t want to overtire your muscles,” Dr. Ginsberg adds.
Good form makes for good results.
You should see a gradual improvement in several weeks up to a couple of months, if you’re doing the exercises the right way. But that’s part of the challenge.
“Patients will say they’ve been doing them all their life but are not any better,” Dr. Ginsberg says. “A pelvic floor physical therapist can help them identify the right muscles and learn how to do the exercises correctly.”
Even though this may seem like extra effort, Ginsberg says patients often come back and tell him how much better they are after seeing a pelvic floor physical therapist.
Weakened pelvic floor muscles and the symptoms you may experience as a result, including incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse, definitely can be helped. Kegel exercises are one of the most important things you can do on your own at home to improve your quality of life.