What is a Kegel?

January 11, 2016

Kegel exercises are named after the gynecologist, Dr. Arnold Kegel, who discovered

them in his research.  A kegel exercise is the contraction (squeezing) of the pelvic

floor muscles to help increase strength and endurance.  Strength and endurance of

the pelvic floor muscles are key factors in pain management, continence of bladder

& bowel, and even breathing function.

 

What are the pelvic floor muscles?

The pelvic floor muscles are a group of muscles that attach from your pubic bone to

your tailbone and consist of three different muscles that contract together.  These

muscles create the walls of the vaginal and rectal canals, and support the abdominal

and pelvic organs.  Over the years, these muscles endure many different stressors,

such as constipation, pregnancy/childbirth, cancer treatments, menopause, surgery,

or even coughing and sneezing.  These events can weaken the pelvic floor muscles

and cause symptoms such as urinary or fecal incontinence, pelvic pain, or sexual

dysfunction.

 

Getting it right

 

To perform a Kegel exercise, you are often advised to squeeze or tighten the pelvic

floor muscles as if you are trying to stop the flow of urine or stop yourself from

passing gas.  You can also visualize closing a zipper from your tailbone to your pubic

bone, or visualize the pelvic floor as an elevator, lifting from the first floor to the

tenth floor as you squeeze.  If you are unable to feel yourself squeezing, you may

insert a finger vaginally to see if you are contracting the muscles correctly, however,

it is suggested that a trained professional (i.e. pelvic PT, urologist, gynecologist)

assess your pelvic floor and give you advice on proper technique before you

continue with an exercise program.

 

How often should you kegel?

 

Typically, patients can expect to see improvements within 6-12 weeks of starting a

kegel exercise program.  If you feel that your symptoms are worsening, or that there

is no noticeable improvement within this time, you may be doing your exercises

incorrectly.  Please remember that YOU ARE NOT ALONE!  Many patients, upwards

of 50%, tend to perform kegels incorrectly, even after being taught.  

Even after your pelvic floor strength has returned and your symptoms have

resolved, it is important to continue performing your kegel exercises.  As with any

other voluntary muscle, like your biceps or quadriceps, “if you don’t use it, you lose

it”.  This is a lifelong program!

 

 

Helpful hints:
 

  • Do not perform kegels during urination, as this can cause damage to your
    urinary tract or potentially create problems with urinary retention.

  • Once you are confident with your kegel, DO try them throughout the day
    during your regular activities like walking, exercising, or brushing your teeth

  • Quality over quantity.  It is more beneficial to perform 5 kegels, holding for
    10 seconds & relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions, 3 times per day,
    than to do 200 kegels everyday.

  • Relaxation is JUST as important as squeezing!  Please give yourself time to
    relax between kegel contractions. 

  • SQUEEZE BEFORE YOU SNEEZE, COUGH, OR LIFT HEAVY OBJECTS.

---

References:

Bø, K (2006). "Can pelvic floor muscle training prevent and treat pelvic organ prolapse?” Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand 85 (3): 263–8.

 

Hay-Smith EJ, Dumoulin C (2006). "Pelvic floor muscle training versus no treatment, or inactive control treatments, for urinary incontinence in women". Cochrane database of systematic reviews (Online) (1): CD005654.

 

Herderschee, R; Hay-Smith, EJ; Herbison, GP; Roovers, JP; Heineman, MJ (Jul 6, 2011). "Feedback or biofeedback to augment pelvic floor muscle training for urinary incontinence in women.". The Cochrane database of systematic reviews (7): CD009252.

 

Kenway M. and Goh J. (2009) Inside Out - The essential women's guide to pelvic support

Stein, Amy. Healing Pelvic Pain. McGraw Hill; 2009.

 

 

"Kegel exercises: A how-to guide for women". Mayo Clinic. July 10, 2010. Retrieved July 4, 2012.

 

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