Kegel Exercises and the Pelvic Floor

By Sonya Thigpen, PTA, ATC

What is the Pelvic Floor?

The pelvic floor is made up of muscles and connective tissues that are vital in supporting and protecting important organs in your pelvis. These organs include the bladder, bowel (large intestine) and internal reproductive organs. The pelvic floor is important in controlling both bowel and bladder function. The pelvic floor muscles form the base for your core. This helps create stability, allowing the body to absorb external pressures (i.e. lifting and coughing) which in turn, protects the spine and organs.

Illustration of the pelvic floor muscles and labels. JOI Rehab

Pelvic Floor Anatomy

Having a healthy pelvic floor means that the pelvic floor muscles are strong enough to stabilize the core and protect the organs. They do this while remaining flexible enough to stretch and relax. Being able to automatically control the pelvic floor can help to improve bowel and bladder function. In addition to, improve your core to help you with everyday activities.

What causes a weak Pelvic Floor?

Many factors can cause a weak pelvic floor. When too much stress is put on the muscles of the pelvic floor the muscles can weaken. As a consequence, the muscles give less support to the pelvic organs. Several health conditions and life events can lead to pelvic floor weakness. Examples are pregnancy and childbirth, obesity, aging, exercising (i.e. jumping, running, and heavy weightlifting), as well as surgeries to the abdomen and pelvic region.

What are Kegel Exercises?

The pelvic floor muscles can be strengthened by performing what are known as Kegel exercises. Kegel Exercises require routinely squeezing and relaxing the pelvic muscles to slowly build control. By performing Kegel exercises and therefore strengthening the pelvic floor, you can have better control over your bladder and bowel at rest and during activity to avoid leakage.

Should Men Perform Kegel Exercises?

Fun fact: Kegel exercises aren’t just for women! Although the common recommendation is for women due to higher prevalence of incontinence with pregnancy and childbirth, men can benefit from Kegel exercises as well. Developing strength in the pelvic floor can help men to have better bladder control, especially if they have pelvic floor weakness due to prostate cancer.

How are Kegel Exercises Performed?

The first step in performing a Kegel exercise is to find and be able to isolate the pelvic floor muscles. Kegel exercises are for the most part simple in nature but finding the correct muscles to perform the exercises can be quite challenging. Oftentimes, men and women are engaging their abdominals, buttocks or inner thigh muscles. To find your pelvic floor muscles try to stop your urination midstream. You could also pretend that you are trying to prevent yourself from passing gas. It is important to only use these methods while you are trying to find the pelvic floor muscles as frequently trying to stop urination midstream can lead to an infection. If you are using the correct muscles, you should feel the contraction in the back of the pelvic region vs. the front.

Image of kegel exercises with instructions. JOI Rehab

How to Perform Kegel Exercises

Once you have identified your pelvic floor muscles you can perform Kegel exercises lying down, sitting, or standing. Try to hold the contraction for 3-5 seconds and then relax for 3-5 seconds. Start with a small number of repetitions and increase your repetitions as you gain more endurance and strength, working up to 2-3 sets of 10 daily. Make sure to breathe while performing Kegel exercises. When Kegel exercises are performed correctly you should feel the muscles of your pelvis pull inward and upward.

When should Kegel Exercises be Performed?

Kegel exercises can be performed discreetly throughout the day during everyday activities, like while brushing your teeth or sitting at your desk. By making it part of your daily routine you should be able to see results within a few weeks to a few months.

Remember, the best Kegel exercise you can do is one that is in correct form! If you’re having trouble doing Kegel exercises, don’t be shy and ask for help! Your healthcare provider can assist you in finding resources that can help you learn how to isolate and strengthen the correct muscles. They might refer you to a physical therapist who specializes in treating the pelvic floor or suggest biofeedback training to perform Kegel exercises correctly.

Written By: Sonya Thigpen, PTA, ATC

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