How important are Kegel exercises for women?

The benefits of Kegel exercises extend far beyond just bladder control

Kegel exercises do more than let you laugh with confidence -- much more

Kegel exercises do more than let you laugh with confidence — much more

Kegel exercises are pelvic floor strengthening techniques that women can do themselves, and which can help prevent or control urinary incontinence, improve other pelvic floor problems, and in some circumstances improve sexual function. Here’s a step-by-step guide to doing Kegel exercises correctly and why this is such an important aspect of health for a woman’s sexual health.

Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. You can do Kegel exercises, also known as pelvic floor muscle training, discreetly just about anytime.

Start by understanding what Kegel exercises can do for you, and then follow step-by-step instructions for contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles.

Why Kegel exercises and the Pelvic Floor is Important

Many factors can weaken pelvic floor muscles, including pregnancy, childbirth, surgery, aging and being overweight.

You might benefit from doing Kegel exercises if you:

  • Are pregnant or just had a baby. Kegel exercises help tone loose vaginal muscles for women who have just had a baby. And for women who are preparing for delivery, keeping their pelvic muscles strong can help prevent urine leakage at the end of pregnancy, a common complaint, and can make the later months of pregnancy a more comfortable experience in general.
  • Leak urine while sneezing, laughing, jumping, or coughing
  • Have a strong, recurrent urge to urinate frequently, sometimes which happens at night and can keep you awake
  • Bladder loses urine even when you try to hold it (urinary incontinence)
  • Leak stool (fecal incontinence) or have fecal smearing in underpants
  • Are a woman with a job that requires heavy lifting. Women should do Kegel exercises if they have careers in industries that require heavy lifting, such as delivery and manufacturing. Lifting and straining required by these jobs can sometimes lead to bladder prolapse that can cause urinary leakage and other pelvic floor problems.

Kegel exercises can be done during pregnancy or after childbirth to try to prevent urinary incontinence, but Kegel are important to do at every age. Kegel exercises, along with other medical treatments and sex therapy, might also be helpful for women who have persistent difficulty reaching orgasm. The strength of the pelvic floor may influence the quality of sexual response. A recent study showed that women with  stronger pelvic muscle scored significantly higher on measures of arousal and orgasm than those with weak pelvic floor muscles, and they reported higher levels of sexual satisfaction overall.

If urinary, fecal, or sexual symptoms persist despite Kegel exercises, it is important to be evaluated by a physician for other causes that can contribute to these symptoms, and which may require medical therapies.

How to do Kegel exercises

It takes patience, diligence, and practice to identify your pelvic floor muscles and learn how to contract and relax them effectively.  Here are some considerations:

  • Find the right muscles. To identify your pelvic floor muscles, stop urination in midstream. If you succeed, you’ve got the right muscles. It may help to insert a finger into the vaginal canal when you have privacy, and feel the muscle contract around your finger.
  • Perfect your technique. Once you’ve identified your pelvic floor muscles, empty your bladder and lie on your back. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for five seconds, and then relax for five seconds. Try it four or five times in a row. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions. Focus as well on contracting core abdominal muscle in conjunction with the pelvic floor in the lower abdomen.
  • Maintain your focus. For best results, focus on tightening only your pelvic floor muscles. Be careful not to flex the muscles in your upper abdomen, thighs or buttocks. Avoid holding your breath. Instead, breathe freely during the exercises.
  • Repeat 3 times a day. Aim for at least three sets of 10 repetitions a day. Some women find it useful to use a Smartphone app that helps remind them to do Kegal’s, or to habitually do Kegals at routine times of the day such as when stopped at a red light while driving, or when brushing teeth in the morning and evening.

Don’t make a habit of using Kegel exercises to start and stop your urine stream. Doing Kegel exercises while emptying your bladder can actually weaken the muscles, as well as lead to incomplete emptying of the bladder — which increases the risk of a urinary tract infection.

There are numerous products promoted as vaginal exercising devices which are often made of silicon and ball shaped which are inserted into the vagina which help facilitate Kegel exercises and vaginal wall strength. It is important that a device be discussed initially with a health care provider before use as to whether this is an appropriate measure to add to regular Kegel exercises.

If You Have Questions

If you’re having trouble doing Kegel exercises, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. Your doctor or other health care provider can give you important feedback so that you learn to isolate and exercise the correct muscles. A pelvic floor physical therapist is a provider specially trained in the function and treatment of the pelvic floor who can also be consulted.

In some cases biofeedback training, pelvic floor physical therapy, or e-stim pelvic floor rehabilitation programs may be useful. During a biofeedback session, your doctor or other health care provider inserts a small probe into your vagina or rectum. As you relax and contract your pelvic floor muscles, a monitor will measure and display your pelvic floor activity.

When to expect results

If you do Kegel exercises regularly, you can expect results, such as less frequent urine leakage, within about a few months. For continued benefits, make Kegel exercises a permanent part of your daily routine.