Kegel Exercises -- The How and What

Kegel exercises were originally developed as a method of controlling incontinence (Incontinence is the inability to control urination) in women following childbirth. These exercises are now recommended for women with urinary stress incontinence.

The success of Kegel exercises depends on proper technique and adherence to a regular resistance exercise program. Some people have difficulty identifying and isolating the muscles of the pelvic floor. The principle behind Kegel exercises is to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, (PC Muscle) thereby improving the urethra and/or rectal sphincter function.

Care must be taken to learn to contract the correct muscles. Typically, most people contract the abdominal or thigh muscles, while not even working the pelvic floor muscles. Several techniques exist to help the incontinent person identify the correct muscles.

A kegel is the name of a pelvic floor exercise, named after Dr. Kegel who discovered the exercise. These muscles are attached to the pelvic bone and act like a hammock, holding in your pelvic organs. To isolate these muscles try stopping and starting the flow of urine. Involuntary leakage of urine (urinary incontinence) is the bane of many of us who've reached our 40's -- and often affects younger women, too.

Decreasing levels of estrogen can weaken the muscles that have control over the urethra (the tube carrying urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). Other factors, such as weight gain as we get older, can make incontinence worse.

Identify right muscles

One approach is to sit on the toilet and start to urinate. Try to stop the flow of urine midstream by contracting your pelvic floor muscles. Repeat this action several times until you become familiar with the feel of contracting the correct group of muscles. Do not contract your abdominal, thigh, or buttocks muscles while performing the exercise.

Another approach to help you identify the correct muscle group is to insert a finger into the vagina. You should then try to tighten the muscles around your finger as if holding back urine. The abdominal and thigh muscles should remain relaxed. Women may also strengthen these muscles by using a Coming Soon, which is a resistance device that is inserted into the vagina. The women should then try to contract the pelvic floor muscles in an effort to hold the device closed for 10 seconds and then relax, doing this 5 to 10 minutes a day, three to five times a week.

What Are Kegel Exercises?

Kegel, or pelvic floor muscle exercises are done to strengthen the muscles which support the urethra, bladder, uterus and rectum.

Why Do Kegel Exercises?

Often the pelvic floor muscles are weak which contributes to problems with losing urine. Doing the exercises correctly and regularly with resistance can strengthen the muscles. Stronger muscles lead to little or no urine loss for many women.

How Do I Do Them?

Over one-third of women start out squeezing the wrong muscles. Therefore, it is helpful to work with a doctor or nurse who can teach you the correct technique. You can also check yourself by placing a finger in your vagina and squeezing around it. When you feel pressure around your finger, you are using the correct muscle. Try to keep everything relaxed except the muscles right around the vagina. At the same time, do not bear down or squeeze your thigh, back or abdominal muscles. Breathe slowly and deeply. At first you can do the exercises with your knees together (lying or sitting).

How Often Should I Do The Exercises?

Be sure you are doing them correctly before you start. We recommend doing the exercises for five minutes twice a day. You should squeeze the muscle for a count of four and relax for a count of four. At first, you may not be able to do the exercises for a whole five minutes or hold the squeeze for a count of four. With practice it will become easier as the muscles get stronger.

When Should I Expect Improvement In My Symptoms?

It takes from six to twelve weeks for most women to notice a change in urine loss. Remember, if you do the exercises with resistance regularly you could see results sooner and prevent stress incontinence.

How Should I Do The Exercises?

If you read that these exercises can be done anywhere, anytime - that is not necessarily true. We have studied different ways of doing the exercises to see what works best to decrease urine loss. What we found worked best was five minute sessions done twice a day. Many women report that five minutes before they get up in the morning and five minutes before they sleep is a helpful routine.

Is There Anything I Should Change Once The Exercises Become Easy?

Once the exercises become easy, you can further strengthen the muscles by squeezing to a count of eight and relaxing to a count of eight with our recommended resistance exerciser. Repeat this for five minutes two times a day. It will also work the muscle more to do the exercises with your knees apart.

How Long Do I Have To Do The Exercises?

Once you have attained your goal, you can do the exercises for five minutes three times a week. If you start having problems again with urine loss, you may need to go back to five minutes two times a day.

Helpful Hints
Listen to music when you do the exercises -- this can make it more fun! Keep a calendar and give yourself a check mark or star each time you do the exercises. This will help you keep track of when you started and keep you motivated. If you stop doing the exercises, start again! Just remember it takes regular practice to see results.

Republished from University of Iowa Health Care.