What are Kegel exercises?
Kegel exercises (also called pelvic floor exercises) are done to strengthen muscles of the pelvic floor. Kegel exercises not only can help prevent urine leakage, but can be helpful for accidental passing of stool or gas, and may even help to improve orgasm. Keeping these muscles 'fit,' helps keep the uterus, urethra (tube that carries the urine from the bladder to the outside of the body), and bowel from sagging down into the vagina. If this happens, the condition is called pelvic organ prolapse.
What happens if pelvic organ prolapse does occur?
What causes pelvic organ prolapse to develop in the first place?
Any health conditions that put stress on the muscles of the pelvic floor, causing them to weaken, can lead to pelvic organ prolapse. These include:
- Pregnancy and vaginal child birth.
- Being overweight/weight gain.
- Surgery in the pelvic area – including cesarean section (“C-section”).
- Genetics – some people are born with a higher risk than others to develop weakness in the tissues that support the muscles of the pelvic floor.
- Natural aging process – the muscles of the pelvic floor, as well as muscles in the rectum and anus, naturally weaken with age. Loss of estrogen also weakens muscles in this area.
- Frequent bouts of sneezing, coughing, laughing
- Exercises (especially jumping, running and other ‘jarring’ exercises; heavy weight lifting); and contact sports.
How do I find my pelvic floor muscles?
It’s pretty simple:
Try stopping the flow of your urine when you are sitting on the toilet. Only do this until you learn how it feels (otherwise this stopping and starting of urine flow can lead to other health problems). You can also insert a finger into your vagina and squeeze the muscles in your vagina around it. You should feel pressure around your finger. The muscles you feel ‘lifting’ inside of you when you are trying these activities are the same ones you strengthen during Kegel exercises.
How do I perform Kegel exercises?
Kegel exercises consist of lifting and holding and then relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. Start by doing a small number of exercises (ie, lifts/squeezes, holds, and relaxes) over a short period of time, then gradually increase both the length of time and the number of exercises you are doing in each ‘session’ (which is called a set). You should perform at least two sets of the exercises a day.
Start by lifting and holding for 3 seconds then relaxing for 3 seconds. Repeat this 10 times in a row – this would be one set. (If 10 times in a row is too high to start with, reduce this number.) Do this set of exercises at least twice a day. As you improve, increase all of these numbers. In other words, increase the length of time you are lifting, holding and relaxing; the number of exercises making up a set and the number times per day you are doing these exercises. For example, instead of holding for 3 seconds and relaxing for 3 seconds, hold and relax for 4 seconds each, then up to 5 seconds each. Increase the number of exercises in a set to 10 in a row (if not already there). Finally, increase the number of times you do these exercises from twice a day to three times a day.
Biofeedback and other techniques.
For women who have trouble doing Kegel exercises, two techniques can help – biofeedback training and electric stimulation of the pelvic floor muscles. Biofeedback is done to help determine if the correct muscles are being squeezed; electrical stimulation recreates the sensation of what a properly done Kegel exercise should feel like.
Biofeedback training (done by a health care professional) involves inserting a probe into the vagina. When instructed to perform a Kegel exercise, a monitor shows if the correct muscles are being squeezed.
With electrical stimulation, the pelvic floor muscles are touched with a small, painless amount of electric current. This causes these muscles to squeeze. This sensation mimics what a Kegel muscle exercise should feel like if done properly.
Kegel Exercise Tips
- You can do the Kegel exercises lying down or while sitting or standing. If your pelvic muscles are weak, you may want to do them laying down at first. A few minutes in the morning and again before bedtime are good times to start the exercise program.
- When starting out, only do the number of Kegel exercises that are fairly easy for you to do (eg, 5 Kegels for 3 seconds each twice a day). Slowly increase these numbers as you gain strength and endurance.
- Do not hold your breath while doing the exercises – breathe out. Also, be careful not to bear down or squeeze the muscles of your inner thighs, back, buttocks, or stomach. Squeezing these muscles means you are not doing the exercise correctly.
- There’s no need to purchase “Kegel muscle strengthening” equipment. Although it may help, some equipment may not work as advertised.
When can I expect to see improvement?
Most women say they notice less urine leakage within 12 weeks after starting – and sticking with – a Kegel exercise routine.
Did you know that Kegel exercises are also helpful for men?
It’s true. Men with certain health and sexual health issues can also benefit from doing Kegel exercises. In men, these exercises can:
- Help improve incontinence (depending on the cause)
- Help manage prostate pain and swelling that occurs with prostatitis and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH)
- Increase men’s sexual pleasure through greater control of ejaculation and improved orgasm sensation