**Kegel Exercises: Strengthening Your Pelvic Floor Muscles for Improved Bladder and Bowel Function**
Pelvic floor muscles play a crucial role in supporting the bladder, uterus, and bowels. However, certain events such as childbirth, menopause, and surgeries involving the reproductive organs can weaken these muscles, leading to issues with bladder and bowel functions. Fortunately, there are exercises called kegel exercises that specifically target and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, reducing the chances of bladder leakage and improving bowel control. In this article, we will provide expert advice on how to perform kegel exercises correctly, who can benefit from them, and any associated risks.
**Understanding Kegel Exercises**
Kegel exercises involve contracting and releasing the muscles of the pelvic floor. These muscles support vital organs such as the bladder, urethra, rectum, and uterus in individuals assigned female at birth. When these muscles become weak or lax, kegel exercises can help tighten and strengthen them. Not only can kegel exercises prevent urine or stool release, but they can also improve sexual function, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
**Performing Kegel Exercises Correctly**
Contrary to popular belief, kegel exercises are best performed by imagining holding in a bowel movement rather than holding in urine midstream. This technique better engages the pelvic floor muscles according to Oluwayeni Abraham, a physical therapist and founder of Triggered Physical Therapy. When you contract these muscles, take a deep breath in the abdomen and engage the core muscles. Hold the contraction for around three seconds before releasing. To strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, aim to repeat this exercise at least 10 to 20 times per day.
**Who Should Try Kegel Exercises?**
Kegel exercises can benefit both men and women. However, there are specific groups of people who are recommended to try kegel exercises:
1. Pregnant Individuals: Doing kegel exercises throughout pregnancy significantly reduces the risk of experiencing urinary incontinence in late pregnancy. Strengthening the pelvic floor muscles can also help prevent perineal tearing during vaginal birth.
2. Postpartum Individuals: Continuing kegel exercises after giving birth aids in regaining bladder control. Postpartum pelvic floor muscle strengthening is established as the treatment for postpartum urinary incontinence. Most postpartum women would also benefit from seeing a pelvic floor therapist around eight to 12 weeks after giving birth.
3. Menopausal Individuals: Menopause can cause urine leakage and sexual dysfunction, such as vaginal tightness or laxity. Kegel exercises have been shown to improve sexual function in menopausal women. However, it’s crucial to consult a pelvic floor physical therapist if you experience pain during sex to determine if kegels are the appropriate therapy.
4. Post-Operative Individuals: Kegel exercises are beneficial for men who have undergone prostate or bladder surgery. They can also help transgender women who have had gender-affirming surgery on the genitals. Pelvic floor exercises and physical therapy significantly reduce pelvic floor dysfunction and improve symptoms and quality of life for these individuals.
**Benefits of Kegel Exercises**
Kegel exercises offer various benefits, including:
**Kegel Exercises for Women**
– Prevention of pelvic floor dysfunction during pregnancy and birth.
– Better support for the weight of the baby during pregnancy.
– Control of involuntary loss of urine in the postpartum period.
– Improvement of bladder control for women in menopause and beyond.
**Kegel Exercises for Men**
– Reduction of postoperative urinary incontinence after prostatectomy.
– Improved quality of life for men with incontinence.
– Potential treatment option for erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation.
**Risks Associated with Kegel Exercises**
While kegel exercises are generally safe, there are some risks to consider:
– Performing kegel exercises while urinating can lead to incomplete bladder emptying and increase the risk of bladder infections.
– Excessive force during kegel exercises in individuals with vaginas can lead to overly tight vaginal muscles and potentially cause pain during sex.
– Individuals who have recently undergone surgery should wait until their catheter is removed before starting kegel exercises.
**When Not to Try Kegel Exercises**
There are certain situations where caution should be exercised before attempting kegel exercises:
– Avoid kegel exercises in the later stages of pregnancy (beyond 32 weeks) to allow for natural preparation of the pelvic floor for vaginal birth.
– Individuals with chronic pelvic pain, such as endometriosis, should seek the guidance of a pelvic floor physical therapist.
In summary, kegel exercises are a valuable tool for strengthening the pelvic floor muscles and improving bladder and bowel function. By performing kegel exercises correctly and considering any associated risks, individuals can experience the benefits of these exercises regardless of their gender or life stage. To ensure safety and effectiveness, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or pelvic floor physical therapist before starting kegel exercises.