Many of you might know Kegel exercises as those dreaded exercises your doctor tells us to do. You can do these exercises while standing in a queue at the store or sitting at a red light. Do not forget that these pelvic floor exercises have a valuable place in your daily routine during pregnancy.
American gynecologist Arnold Kegel invented these exercises in the 1940s. The purpose of these exercises was to provide nonsurgical treatment for incontinence. Over the years, antenatal Kegel exercises has become a first-line treatment for urinary stress incontinence, bladder, vaginal, or uterine prolapse (sagging), and other pelvic-related health concerns.
Doctors today use Kegels to prevent other issues. This is why many healthy women in mid-life and later are encouraged by their doctors to perform them regularly.
What Are Kegel Exercises?
Kegel exercises or Kegels are an effective, relatively easy method to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. This muscle is very crucial as it supports your bladder, rectum, and uterus. By improving your pelvic floor muscle strength, you can prevent and treat several common pelvic floor disorders. This list includes fecal incontinence, urinary incontinence (UI), and pelvic organ prolapse (POP). The disorder pelvic organ prolapse (POP) might occur due to pregnancy and childbirth, aging, weight gain, and other factors.
These exercises are named after gynecologist Arnold Kegel. These exercises are very helpful in strengthening your pelvic floor muscles. These muscles play an important role during pregnancy and childbirth. If done correctly, Kegels can minimize your stretching, making your vaginal and pelvic area muscles strong.
Most doctors might suggest you follow a Kegel routine during your pregnancy. This makes sense as you need these muscles to be strong. So that they can assist during labor. These muscles also help minimize postpartum incontinence.
If this is your first baby, you might not understand the critical role these muscles play, especially after childbirth. But once you reach the postpartum stage, you will soon discover the importance of your pelvic floor muscles. They support your reproductive organs. In addition, they effectively control bladder and bowel functioning. If you have strong pelvic floor muscles, it can also help delay or prevent other pelvic-related symptoms and disorders.
If you do these exercises correctly and repeatedly, you can also avoid stress and urge incontinence symptoms. These symptoms can increase after childbirth or when you age.
Why Kegel Exercises Are Important
Kegel exercises target the pelvic floor, which is a set of muscles in your pelvic region. This muscle runs from the tailbone to your pubic bone like a hammock. The primary muscle of the pelvic floor is called the pubococcygeus (PC). This pelvic floor muscle runs along and around the openings of your urethra, rectum and vagina.
This layer of muscles is very critical as it supports the organs in your pelvis. These include the uterus, bladder, and bowel. These muscles span the base of your pelvis to keep your organs in place. Moreover, they also strengthen your bladder and rectal sphincters. The rectal sphincters are responsible for giving you conscious control over the bladder and rectum and the release of feces, urine, and flatulence.
If you have a strong pelvic floor, it can help prevent and treat the following:
- Leaking a few drops of urine while you exercise, cough, laugh, or sneeze (stress urinary incontinence)
- Strong, sudden urges to urinate (also called urgency urinary incontinence)
- Unexpected stool leakage (also called fecal incontinence)
- Pelvic organ prolapse
If you exercise your pelvic floor muscles regularly, it helps to tone the muscles of your vagina. As a result, you can enhance sexual health and enjoyment. Research has shown a strong link between sexual dysfunction and weakened pelvic floor muscles.
In short, Kegels can be used to treat or prevent your pelvic health symptoms. In most cases, they are safe to start at any time. However, if you have an overactive pelvic floor, Kegels might worsen your symptoms. Hence, you need to consult your doctor before you start exercising. A pelvic floor physiotherapist can be the right person to help you assess your pelvic floor. And also provide suggestions specifically for you.
Kegel Exercises And Pregnancy
Pelvic floor muscles play a very important role during pregnancy and childbirth. Both pregnancy and childbirth can put a lot of strain on these muscles. Particularly due to the weight of your pregnant belly, changes in posture and body alignment during this period. Moreover, there is a lot of compacting and stretching that happens in your pelvic and abdominal regions while the baby grows. The birth itself can cause damage to these muscles. As a result, you can develop common pelvic floor disorders.
Vaginal childbirth, particularly if you have subsequent births, can weaken the muscles of your pelvic floor. Whereas, a cesarean section might not weaken these muscles to that extent. There are studies to support a relationship between pregnant women and diminished pelvic floor strength.
Other factors, like abdominal surgery, trauma, aging, repeated straining from constipation, and being overweight, can also weaken your pelvic floor muscles.
Even if you do not have clinically diagnosed pelvic floor dysfunction, Kegel exercises can prove to be very helpful. Kegels can help reverse, improve, or prevent a variety of your pelvic health symptoms. Most of these symptoms commonly arise during or after your pregnancy (pregnancy symptoms), including:
- Pain with bowel movements or constipation
- Feeling like you are not ‘done’ during a bowel movement
- Lower back pain
- Leakage of stool
- Painful urination
- Pain during intercourse
- Postpartum incontinence could include stress urinary incontinence, urgency urinary incontinence, mixed incontinence.
In fact, it is a good idea to consult your doctor before starting these exercises. In case you have any specific pelvic health concerns, particularly if you are pregnant or have recently given birth – you should discuss them with your doctor in detail.
How to Practice Kegel Exercises
You would be relaxed to hear that Kegels are a relatively simple and effective exercise that most of you can do to dramatically improve your pelvic floor muscle tone. Kegels are primarily repetitive squeezes of these muscles. You do not need any special equipment to perform these exercises.
You can do these exercises anywhere and anytime. All you need to do is to locate the right muscles, tighten them, hold, release, rest, and repeat. These simple steps can be done just about anywhere and take only a few minutes every day to perform.
Sometimes this is easier said than done. However, at times it can be a bit tricky to get the hang of where your muscles are located and what exactly to do. But, interestingly, once you start doing them, the actual exercises are straightforward and even easy. The key is to isolate the correct muscles to focus on and then learn how to perform them correctly.
Identifying the Right Muscles – To Practice Kegel Exercises
In order to identify the correct muscles, there are some things you can try at home:
- Imagine that you are sitting on a marble. Now, pretend you want to pick up the marble with your vagina, “sucking” it into your vagina.
- Next, insert a clean finger into your vagina. Try to squeeze your muscles as if you were holding in your urine. If you feel a tightening effect around your finger, you have got the right muscles.
- The most important exercise is to stop urinating mid-stream and hold. These are the muscles you will use during Kegel exercises. Squeeze and hold a few times to identify how to isolate these muscles. However, do not make it a practice of doing your Kegels while you urinate. If you do so, it will increase your risk of urinary tract infections or UTIs.
- Use weighted vaginal cones shaped like a rounder computer mouse – that you insert like a tampon and squeeze. These could be helpful tools to show you which muscles to use during the exercise. This method would also keep you on track while doing your Kegels.
If you face difficulty isolating your pelvic floor muscles, ask your gynecologist or doctor for guidance. They might refer you to a physical therapist specializing in Kegels and help teach you proper techniques.
Performing Kegel Exercises
You need to understand the proper technique of doing Kegel exercises once you get the hang of it. You can do them in any position and in any place.
These are the four comfortable positions, to begin with:
- Kneeling on all fours
- Lying down
Ideally, you should try doing all four positions each day for maximum strength. One best way of doing Kegels is to squeeze and lift from the vaginal opening up toward your cervix. Some describe this tightening motion as like riding an elevator up as far as it will go. Then, as you let your muscles relax, which takes the elevator all the way back down.
Sample Kegel Exercise
- When you are preparing to do Kegel exercises, make sure your bladder is empty.
- Locate the correct muscles. Muscles that you use to stop the flow of urine.
- Pull up your pelvic muscles and squeeze for a count of 5 or 6 seconds. Then relax for a count of 5 or 6.
- Work up to a set of 12 to 15 repetitions each time.
- Try to do the exercises at least thrice a day.
- Practice fast, tight holds or a series of longer, progressively stronger squeezes.
- Customized hold exercises target specific concerns, like leaking when exercising, coughing, laughing, or yelling.
Benefits of Kegels
Once you start doing the Kegels, you will notice its benefits which include:
- Stronger, tightened pelvic floor muscles.
- Better control of avoiding rectal incontinence.
- Better control of the urinary bladder.
- A tighter vagina, contribute to a healthier sex life.
Additionally, you might know that Kegel exercises can also help with postural support. This extra support is essential in reducing your other symptoms, such as back pain.
Like any workout regimen, Kegels takes some time to show a significant muscle strength improvement. You might start to notice a change in your bladder strength. As you would have fewer “accidents” and longer times between trips to the bathroom. You can see the change within three to six weeks of regularly doing Kegel exercises, but this could vary greatly from person to person.