Everyone knows the old saying, “Kegel every day keep incontinence away,” right? Okay, this may not be the most well known principle, but it’s one for women to live by.
Urinary incontinence – the accidental or involuntary release of urine – affects nearly 25 million Americans. It is caused most often by a weakened or damaged urinary tract. For women, the urethra (urinary control “valve”) lies on a “hammock” of ligaments and muscle. If this hammock is stretched, urethral compression weakens and leaks can occur.
At Pacific Urology, we recently started distributing “daily kworkout” buttons to our community to serve not only as an important reminder of the need for Kegel exercise, but to empower women to take back their lives.
Kegels, also commonly referred to as pelvic floor exercise, consist of repeatedly contracting and relaxing pelvic floor muscles – the structure that supports the uterus, bowel and bladder.
While noting the difficulty in quantifying improvement in urinary incontinence after Kegel exercise, recent studies have shown that women who correctly and regularly perform the exercises reduce the likelihood of urinary incontinence.
Don’t let urinary incontinence be part of your life
From the occasional sneeze to bending over to pick something up off the floor, mild urinary incontinence can happen when it’s least expected.
A widespread misconception about urinary incontinence is that it’s a condition that only affects older women. The truth is that incontinence can affect anyone, but younger women – and sometimes their health providers – often do not recognize it as a problem.
“Twenty-five percent of female college varsity athletes lose urine when doing provocative exercise, and most do not consider it a problem; indeed, most experts would agree that these young women do not have a major health problem,” says Dr. Ingrid Nygaard, urogynecologist at the University of Utah. “Conversely, most experts would agree that middle-aged women who lose urine throughout the day, wear pads, and curtail desired activities because of leakage truly suffer and would benefit from treatment.”
Urinary incontinence also affects one third of all postpartum women. During birth, a woman’s pelvic floor is altered and stretched to allow her baby’s head to pass out of the womb and through the vagina. This can weaken the pelvic floor and cause urinary incontinence.
Time to Kegel
For women suffering from incontinence there are varying options to correct their condition including bladder training (timed voiding), prescription medication and surgery. But the first line of treatment and defense against urinary incontinence is the Kegel technique.
Kegel exercises can help to strengthen the pelvic floor and create needed tension to avoid to urinary mishaps.
How to do the Kworkout
- Finding the pelvic muscle: Without tensing the muscles of your leg, buttocks or abdomen, imagine that you are trying to control the passing of gas or pinching off a stool. Or imagine you are in as elevator full of people and you feel the urge to pass gas. What do you do?
- Exercise Regimen: One exercise consists of both “tightening and relaxing” the muscle. It is equally important to control when your muscle tightens and relaxes. Be sure to relax completely between each muscle tightening.
- Two Types of Exercises: Short/quick contractions (two seconds) and slow/long contractions (three or five or 10 seconds). To do the short or quick muscle contractions, contract or tighten your pelvic muscle quickly and hard, and immediately relax it. For the slow or long (sustained) contractions, contract or tighten your pelvic muscle and hold for a count of (three or five or 10 seconds), then relax the muscle completely for the same amount of time. Products such as the KGoal can help you track the intensity, duration and amount of Kegel exercises performed.
- Where to Practice: These exercises can be practiced anywhere and anytime. You can do the exercises in these position:
- Lying Down: Lie on your back, flat or with your head on a pillow, knees bent and feet slightly apart. It is helpful to support your knees with a pillow.
- Sitting: Sit upright in a firm seat and straight back chair, knees slightly apart, feet flat on the floor or legs stretched out in front and crossed at the ankles.
- Standing: Stand by a chair, knees slightly bent with feet shoulder width apart and toes slightly pointed outward. You can also lean on the kitchen counter with your hips flexed.
- Common Mistakes: Concentrate and tighten only the pelvic floor muscle. DO NOT tighten thighs, buttocks or stomach. If you feel your stomach move, than you are also using these muscles. DO NOT hold your breath. Breathe normally and/or count out loud.
When will I see a change?
After 4 to 6 weeks of daily exercise, you will begin to notice less urine leakage. Make the exercises part of your daily lifestyle. Tighten the muscle when you walk, as you stand up and on the way to the bathroom.
Need a daily Kegel reminder?
Here are some links to the best Kegel apps for your smartphone.