Kegel exercises — also known as pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT) — are highly recommended for many people suffering from incontinence. Named after Dr. Arnold Kegel, who discovered the technique in 1948 and published a paper with his findings in 1951, these exercises have consistently proven to be helpful in terms of alleviating – and sometimes eliminating – the problem of urinary incontinence in both women and men.
What are Kegels?
“Kegels” exercise the pelvic floor muscles undergirding the lower part of the body. These muscles, which support the bladder, bowel, rectum, and, in women, the uterus, can become weakened, stretched too tightly, or not stretched tightly enough. Reasons for this may include childbirth, obesity, advanced age, or, in men, as a side effect of prostate surgery.
Weakened or compromised pelvic floor muscles can contribute to incontinence, as well as other problems, notably, in men, erectile dysfunction. But when these muscles are strengthened via exercise, these problems may be reduced in severity and even disappear.
Kegels are great for a whole bunch of reasons, including:
- They don’t involve surgery
- They don’t involve consuming drugs or medication
- The benefits of toning pelvic floor muscles often include better sexual health in both men and women
Where and When?
Another great thing about Kegel exercises is that those with incontinence can perform these exercises in the privacy of their own homes, without any external exercise equipment other than an exercise mat and (optionally) a medicine ball.
It’s important to note that Kegels must be performed correctly in order to tone the correct muscles. To do them correctly, it’s helpful to consult with a doctor or physiotherapist in advance, to ensure that the contractions one is doing involve the correct muscles. But if you’re interested in what Kegel exercises entail, the Mayo Clinic has a helpful “how to” guide to doing Kegels that can put you on the right track, and YouTube has many illustrative videos that can walk you through the actual process of doing Kegels.
How often should you do your Kegels? The Mayo Clinic recommends a program of three sets of exercises involving 10 sets of “clench and release” contractions per day. WebMD recommends three sets of 10 to 15 contractions each day.
These exercises can be performed at any time of the day, but they shouldn’t be done when the bladder is full, because interrupting the flow of urine from the bladder can, over time, lead to an increased chance of a urinary tract infection. Which brings us to our next point: while Kegels have little or no risks associated with them, it’s always best to discuss your own condition with your doctor, or a physiotherapist knowledgeable about Kegel exercises before beginning any program of therapy.
How long will Kegels take to help?
As with any program of exercise, results are dependent on sticking to the program. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, pelvic floor muscles need time – and attention – before your exercise program begins to deliver meaningful results. Everyone’s body is different, and some people suffering from incontinence will not have their condition eased by exercise, irrespective of their dedication to any exercise program. For those who find that Kegels help provide relief, it’s impossible to specify an exact time when their incontinence symptoms will be alleviated. But 12 weeks seems to be a reasonable time frame for seeing results, as long as the exercises are done correctly and regularly.
Thank you, Doctor Kegel!
NOTE: This article was not written by a medical professional and is not intended to substitute the guidance of a physician. It includes facts and data collected from various reliable medical and health sources.