What are Kegel exercises?
The function of pelvic muscles is to help regulate the flow of urine. Subsequently, weak pelvic muscles can contribute to urinary leakage. For women, pelvic muscles may become weak after childbirth or menopause. For men, prostate surgery may weaken pelvic muscles. Kegel exercises were designed to help strengthen pelvic floor muscles and reduce or eliminate urinary leakage for both men and women.
Kegel exercises were invented by American gynecologist Dr. Arnold Kegel for controlling urinary leakage in women after childbirth. Over time, the importance of these exercises were recognized for the treatment of urinary and fecal incontinence.
The principle behind kegel exercises is to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor, thereby improving urethral and rectal sphincter function. The success of kegel exercises depends on proper technique and adherence to a regular exercise program.
How do kegel exercises work?
When practicing kegel exercises properly, and over a recommended period of time, they can provide several benefits. These benefits can include:
- Conditioned pelvic muscles may make childbirth easier, and the perineum is more likely to remain intact (fewer tears and episiotomies)
- Sexual enjoyment can be enhanced for both partners.
- It can prevent prolapses of pelvic organs.
- It can help prevent urinary leakage.
How to perform kegel exercises
Kegel exercises were developed to be easy enough for anyone to practice them, regardless of their mobility level. In fact, kegel exercises can be done while standing, sitting or lying down. To better understand what a kegel exercise feels like, follow this example the next time you are ready to urinate:
- 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.
- This method of contraction is a kegel exercise.
Another approach to help patient’s identify the correct muscle group is to insert a finger into the vagina (women), or rectum (men). Try to tighten the muscles around the finger as if holding back urine. The abdominal and thigh muscles should remain relaxed.
Practicing kegel exercises
When practicing kegel exercises the following formula is recommended:
- Tighten the pelvic floor muscles and hold for a count of 10.
- Relax the same muscles for a count of 10.
- Kegel exercises should be practiced for five minutes at a time, twice each day.
It generally takes from six to twelve weeks for most patients to notice a change in urine loss, depending on their circumstances.
Once the patient has attained their goal, exercises can be performed for five minutes, three times a week. This can be adjusted if urine leakage reappears. Some people may feel that they can speed up their progress by increasing the number of repetitions and the frequency of exercises. However, over-exercising may cause muscle fatigue and increase urine leakage.
Kegel exercises prior to prostate surgery
For men scheduled to undergo prostate surgery, it is recommended that they start kegel exercises six to eight weeks prior to surgery. Their exercises can be practiced during urination to include the following:
- Begin by locating the muscles to be exercised.
- Start urinating, and then try to stop or slow the flow of urine without tensing the leg, buttocks or abdomen muscles.
- When stopping or slowing the stream of urine, the patient will know that they have located the correct muscles.
- Patients should feel a sensation of the muscles pulling inward and upward.
For patients who are unsure if they are performing the procedure correctly, biofeedback and electrical stimulation may be used to help identify the correct muscle group to work with.
Biofeedback is a method of positive reinforcement. Electrodes are placed on the abdomen and along the anal area. Therapists place a sensor in the vagina (women) or rectum (men), to monitor the contraction of pelvic floor muscles. A monitor will display a graph showing the muscles that are contracting and those that are at rest. The therapist will then be able to show the patient the correct muscles for performing Kegel exercises.
If you have been experiencing incontinence and are interested in learning more about kegel exercises, contact Urology Austin to schedule an appointment. At Urology Austin, we have a physical therapist on staff who specializes in pelvic floor rehabilitation.