STRENGTHENING YOUR PELVIC FLOOR MUSCLES
What Are Kegel Exercises?
Kegel exercises can help strengthen pelvic muscles. The part of the body that includes the hip bones is the pelvic area. Pelvic muscles are at the bottom of this area (pelvic floor), between the legs, roughly the part covered by a panty liner. These muscles are important for supporting the bladder, uterus (womb), and rectum. They prevent urine and stool (bowel movements) from leaking out. These muscles also do important work during sex.
What Conditions Can Kegel Exercises Help?
When pelvic floor muscles are stretched or damaged, most often by childbirth, they may stop supporting the bladder, uterus, or rectum. These organs can drop downward and cause feelings of pressure, fullness, and heaviness. They can bulge (prolapse) into the vagina. Lost bladder support can cause problems holding urine during coughing, sneezing, or laughing hard. Urine leakage can happen during and after pregnancy. When support for the rectum fails, trouble having bowel movements can occur. Kegel exercises can help these conditions. They can also help women who have problems reaching orgasm during sex.
How Do You Do Kegel Exercises?
Kegel exercises consist of contracting (squeezing) and relaxing pelvic floor muscles. Learn to do this by thinking of the muscles used to stop the stream of urine once it has started. Contracting these muscles stops the urine. Relaxing these muscles lets the flow start again. Once the right muscles are found, they can be contracted and released without urinating. Kegel exercises are most often done in sets. Quickly contract and release the muscles 15, 20, or more times, and then rest for 30 seconds and repeat this process. Also, muscles can be contracted and held tight for 3 seconds and then released for 3 seconds, with this process repeated 20 or more times. Longer times are used until muscles can be contracted for 10 seconds and relaxed for 10 seconds between contractions. With either method, repeat the process two or three times each day.
It’s best to tighten only pelvic floor muscles, not muscles in the abdomen (belly), thighs, or buttocks. Don’t start and stop the urine stream. Doing Kegel exercises with a full bladder or while urinating can actually weaken the muscles. Also, over-exercising can make muscles tired and increase urine leakage.
These exercises can be done anywhere without anyone knowing about it. Some people use tricks to remember to exercise—getting ready for a break from work, when the evening news starts, checking e-mail, while waiting for a stop light.
Many doctors recommend the exercises to all people and to pregnant women to help them get ready for labor and delivery.
DOs and DON’Ts for Kegel Exercises:
- DO keep doing your exercises. As with other exercises, seeing results takes time.
- DO try to spread out your exercise sets. Do them at different times of the day, so muscles can rest between exercises.
- DO talk to your health care provider about worries about your pelvic muscles or their function.
- DON’T feel silly doing Kegel exercises. Nobody has to know that you’re doing them.
Contact the following sources:
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- National Women’s Health Information Center
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services