Obstetrician & Gynaecologist
Source: Getty Images
Kegel exercises are one of those health practices many women have heard about. Some are unsure what they’re for, while others think they don’t need to do them (yet). Here, we lay out the simple facts behind Kegel exercises, explaining how they help and providing instructions on how to do them properly.
Kegel exercises, commonly referred to as Kegels, are a set of simple exercises designed to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles play a crucial role in supporting the vagina, uterus, bladder, small intestine, and rectum. The easiest way to identify these muscles effectively is to briefly stop the flow of urine during urination, while seated on the toilet bowl. Alternatively, imagining yourself sitting on a marble and attempting to lift it can also aid in identifying and engaging the right muscles.
Kegel exercises can be beneficial for various individuals, including women who've recently given birth, individuals experiencing urinary incontinence, and those with pelvic organ prolapse. They are also sometimes recommended for addressing sexual dysfunction and improving bowel function. Athletes often incorporate Kegel exercises into their exercise routine to help enhance their core strength. It's advisable to consult with healthcare professionals before starting these exercises, especially if you have specific health concerns or conditions.
Kegel exercises involve tightening or clenching the pelvic muscles and then relaxing them. Done correctly and consistently, this helps to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and improve issues like urinary incontinence, faecal incontinence, and help to prevent pelvic organ prolapse.
There are two main forms of urinary incontinence. Stress incontinence occurs when small amounts of urine leak when a person sneezes, laughs or coughs. Whereas, people with urge incontinence can experience sudden and sometimes uncontrollable urges to urinate, leading to significant and socially embarrassing leakage. Similarly, faecal incontinence refers to the unintentional leakage of flatus or faeces.
Pelvic organ prolapse is a condition where the internal organs droop into a woman’s vagina or, in severe cases, drop out through the vagina. Strengthening the pelvic muscles can help to keep this from happening.
It's generally recommended to perform Kegel exercises regularly. Begin with 3 cycles of 10 short squeezes and one long squeeze daily, gradually increasing to 6 to 10 sets per day.
You can do Kegel exercises discreetly at just about any time, whether you're sitting at your work desk or relaxing on the couch. With consistent daily practice, you can seamlessly integrate pelvic floor exercises (PFEs) into various activities, reaching a reflexive level of training. This level doesn't demand significant mental effort or concentration, allowing your efforts to go unnoticed by people around you.
If your pelvic muscles are weak, you may find it helpful to do the exercises while lying down. Otherwise, Kegel exercises can be performed while standing, sitting, or lying down. What's more important is knowing how to identify and use the correct set of muscles.
Firstly, Kegel exercises should not cause any pain. If you find that you have pain or soreness in your stomach or lower back, or a headache after performing them, you may be clenching the wrong muscles or holding your breath. You should breathe normally and maintain your focus so that you are only tightening or releasing the pelvic floor muscles. Avoid tightening other muscles in the abdomen, thighs or buttocks.
It may take 6-8 weeks of consistent Kegels exercises to see improvement. For example, if you have urinary incontinence, you may experience less leakage.
If you suspect incontinence or other urinary issues persist despite Kegel exercises, schedule an appointment with a urogynaecologist for diagnosis and guidance on the next steps.
Yes, Kegel exercises are often recommended during pregnancy to support pelvic health and prepare for childbirth. Engaging in regular Kegel exercises helps strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which can be particularly beneficial in preventing issues such as urinary incontinence and supporting the additional strain placed on the pelvic region during pregnancy.
Kegel exercises are considered a valuable component of antenatal care, contributing to overall maternal well-being and postnatal recovery. As with any exercise regimen during pregnancy, it's advisable to consult with healthcare professionals for personalised guidance.