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Stop … Kegel Time! Strengthening Your Pelvic Floor

You can do them on your drive to work, cooking dinner, watching TV—just about anywhere.

We’re talking about Kegel exercises. Besides planks and push-ups, it’s one of the few exercises that don’t require equipment and you can literally do just about anywhere. They can have amazing physical and even sexual benefits for both women and men, yet Kegel exercises are often the least used.

What are kegels?

Named after Dr. Arnold Henry Kegel, an American gynecologist, Kegels are designed to strengthen pelvic floor muscles and support pelvic organs.

What are the pelvic floor muscles exactly, you may ask? You can envision them like a hammock that holds your rectum, bladder, female/male organs and small intestines in place. When these muscles of the pelvic floor get weakened, you can have problems with bowel and urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.

“The pelvic floor muscles are the ‘hold it’ muscles,” said Christian Twiss, MD, a urogynecologist with Banner – University Medical Center in Tucson, AZ. “Almost everyone has encountered the uncomfortable situation of having to delay emptying their bladder or bowel until a restroom is available. When this happens, people naturally contract their pelvic floor to prevent embarrassing, accidental leakage. Kegel exercises are simply consciously performing these pelvic contractions to strengthen these muscles.”

What causes pelvic floor issues?

There are many things that can affect your pelvic floor muscles. These include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Pelvic surgery
  • Overuse or overstraining the muscles
  • Obesity
  • Aging

Benefits of kegels

“These pelvic floor muscles are frequently injured in women from childbearing and in men from pelvic surgery, usually prostate surgery,” Dr. Twiss said. “If the muscles become too weak, then urinary and bowel leakage can develop. Additionally, in women, weakened muscles can cause the bladder, uterus and rectum to prolapse out of the vaginal opening, a condition known as pelvic organ prolapse.”

This is why having a strong pelvic floor is important to prevent these conditions as they can have a significant impact on your quality of life.

Kegels can help improve:

  • urinary and bowel issues after pregnancy
  • the symptoms of pelvic organ prolapse
  • leakage from urine, gas or fecal incontinence
  • core stability
  • blood circulation and tone to the pelvic floor and vagina, helping with arousal, lubrication and sexual sensation for both partners

Who shouldn’t do kegels?

Kegels are beneficial for most people, but there are some rare situations when they’re not recommended.

“Those with conditions causing spasms of the pelvic floor muscles may develop symptoms of pain and difficulty emptying the bladder and/or bowel,” Dr. Twiss said. “Doing Kegel exercises in this setting may worsen the problem. People with this condition often need to work with a pelvic floor physical therapist to learn how to properly relax the pelvic floor to relieve the problem.”

Is it possible to do kegels incorrectly?

“Many people don’t perform Kegels correctly and contract their abdominal muscles or gluteal muscles instead,” Dr. Twiss said.

A quick and easy check is to voluntarily stop your urination mid-stream. If you are able to slow or stop the stream, it suggests you are contracting the correct muscles. However, don’t actually do Kegel exercises while going to the bathroom. “This is only advised initially to identify your pelvic floor muscles, but if done repetitively, can lead to urinary dysfunction and a host of other associated urinary problems,” Dr. Twiss cautioned.

Another way is to imagine you are trying to stop or hold in gas. If you sense a pulling feeling, then you are squeezing the right muscles.

How to perform kegels

Kegels involve lifting and holding then relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. Here are some helpful steps from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases on how to perform pelvic floor muscle exercises.

  1. Locate your pelvic floor muscles (check out the tips above for help). If you are having difficult locating them, check with your doctor to make sure you are doing them correctly.
  2. Pull in the pelvic muscles and hold for a count of 1-2-3, relax for a count of 1-2-3 and then repeat 10 times (or build up to this over time if you find it difficult at first—don’t overdo it).
  3. Do these sets at least two times a day and work your way up to three times a day.
  4. Remember to breathe through these exercises and make sure you aren’t squeezing the wrong muscles.
  5. Try to do these exercises while lying on the floor, sitting and standing.
  6. Don’t give up. With consistency, over time you’ll begin to see improvement.

When should I see the doctor?

If you develop urinary or bowel leakage, or in women, an uncomfortable vaginal bulge, you should schedule a visit to your primary care doctor or see a specialist.

“Because these problems are embarrassing, many people wait much too long before seeing their doctor,” Dr. Twiss said. “Most patients are surprised to discover that these problems are very common and have multiple treatment options that can significantly improve the quality of their lives.”

If you’re unsure if you are doing Kegels properly, ask your doctor or schedule an appointment with a certified pelvic floor physical therapist trained in conservative management and rehabilitation of pelvic floor dysfunctions.

To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.

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Women's Health Men's Health Urology Gynecology Physical Therapy Pregnancy