Everyone knows the old saying, “Kegels 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.
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.
From the occasional sneeze to bending over to pick something up off the floor, mild urinary incontinence can happen when its least expected. It also affects women and men of all ages. From college athletes to postpartum women to middle aged individuals of both sexes.
For women suffering from incontinence there are varying options to correct their condition including bladder training (timed voiding), prescription medication, biofeedback 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 Kegels:
- 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.
- Two Types of Exercises: Short/quick contractions (two seconds) and slow/long contractions (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 10 seconds, then relax the muscle completely for the same amount of time. Kegels 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.
- Exercise Regimen: Set a goal of doing 15 repetitions of each type of kegel, morning and night. The more often you workout the better the results. Now there are great Kegel apps for your phone that will help remind you to exercise!
- 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.
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.