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Time to Exercise Down There: Kegel Exercises for Bladder Control

Millions of Americans live with some form of incontinence. As knowledge about incontinence grows, so does the information on how to treat it and manage it. One of the most popular ways to manage leaks is with incontinence products. It’s important to use protective underwear and garments that keep you dry and protect you from leaks. It’s also important to find skincare that keeps your skin healthy and moisturized even with frequent bathroom use and wiping.

Aside from incontinence products, there are other ways to help control leaks, and Kegels are one of the most popular. They are easy to perform, require little movement, and can help you regain control of your bladder.

This guide explains how Kegels can promote bladder control and how to do them from your own home.


What are Kegels?

Kegels are commonly known as pelvic floor exercises or bladder control exercises. They are characterized by the controlled tightening and releasing of the pelvic floor muscles. This movement strengthens the pelvic floor which helps the body hold in urine more effectively.

The pelvic floor muscles are shaped like a hammock and wrap from the front of the pubic bone to the back of the anus. They offer support and control of the bladder and bowel and even support the reproductive system in women. The goal of Kegels is to keep these muscles strong and increase bladder control.

In addition to increased bladder control, Kegels also reduce the risk of prolapse, which occurs when these muscles can no longer support the uterus. Many women also use Kegels as a way to recover from vaginal childbirth, and men may use Kegels to recover after prostate surgery.


Urinary Incontinence and the Bladder Muscles

The most common use of Kegels is to treat and manage urinary incontinence and bladder control. The bladder muscles, or pelvic floor muscles, are responsible for holding in urine. So, as these muscles weaken, we may be unable to hold in urine.


What is Urinary Incontinence?

An estimated 33 million Americans live with some form of urinary incontinence. Incontinence is characterized by the unintentional loss of urine. There are many different forms of incontinence, each with its own causes and symptoms.

Some forms of incontinence such as stress incontinence are due to weakened bladder muscles. Urge incontinence occurs due to a miscommunication between nerves in the bladder and the brain. Functional incontinence is characterized by the inability to get to the restroom in time to empty the bladder.

Almost every type of urinary incontinence can be improved by performing Kegels.


Who can Perform Kegels?

Despite the growing knowledge of how to treat and manage urinary incontinence, many assume Kegels are only for women to perform. While urinary incontinence is more prominent in women who give birth vaginally, UI affects men too, and Kegels are a great tool for anyone to perform. Learn more here about pelvic floor exercises for men.

Anyone who wishes to increase control of their bladder or bowel, manage UI, and recover from surgery or vaginal childbirth can perform Kegels.


Kegel Exercises to Try

Kegels are simple contracting and releasing exercises that can be done anytime and anywhere. The first step in performing these exercises is identifying the right muscles. To identify the pelvic floor muscles, here are a few tips.


Isolating the Pelvic Floor Muscles

There are a few different methods to help isolate the pelvic floor muscles. First, try to imagine that you have to urinate and are mid-flow. Now try to stop this flow by contracting and tightening your pelvic floor muscles. It should feel like these muscles are pulling upwards to stop urine flow. Relax the muscles and try again until you feel confident that you have the right muscles.

You can also perform this exercise while urinating. Wait until your bladder is full and begin to empty it. Next, try to stop the flow of urine by contracting these muscles. If you are able to successfully stop the flow or even slow it down, you’ve isolated the correct muscles.

If you are still having difficulty isolating the correct muscles, here some guidelines that may help.


For Women:

Insert a clean finger into the vagina and try to tighten the muscles surrounding it by pretending to stop the flow of urine. If you feel the tightening around the finger, then you are moving the correct muscles.

For Men:

Insert a clean finger into the rectum and tighten the muscles surrounding it by pretending to stop urine flow midstream. If you can feel the muscles tightening around your finger, then you are isolating the correct muscles.


How to do Kegel Exercises

To perform Kegel exercises, follow these steps:

  • Empty your bladder of urine and find a comfortable place to sit
  • Tighten the pelvic floor muscles as tight as you can
  • You can hold this position for three to five seconds or release and contract quickly in sequence
  • Repeat ten times during each set

How often to do Kegels

Kegels are low-impact and require very little overall movement, so they can be performed often. As a starting point, aim to do Kegels around three times a day. You can do them in the morning, afternoon, or at night. You can also do Kegels while you’re doing other activities, such as washing the dishes or watching television.


Potential Risks

While Kegels exercises can be performed anytime, it is important to note that you shouldn’t try to perform them while urinating frequently. If you’re trying to isolate the pelvic floor muscles, you can stop your urine mid-flow, but once you isolate them, it’s important not to continue to stop urine flow or perform Kegels with a full bladder.

This may result in incomplete emptying of the bladder which can increase the risk of UTI. It is best to perform Kegels when your bladder is empty.

Locating the correct muscles is essential to performing Kegels correctly and getting the best results. If you are having trouble, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or gynecologist to ask for help. They are experts in this area and may be able to help you isolate them and give you more tips on how to increase bladder control.

It’s also important to note that it is possible to perform Kegels too often for women. The vaginal muscles may become too tight and cause pain during intercourse and other issues.


Other Tips for Incontinence

Kegels aren’t the only way to manage and treat urinary incontinence. From products and lifestyle changes to medical treatments and surgeries that can increase bladder control.   


Products

Incontinence products are one of the most popular ways to manage leaks and help increase comfort and confidence. There are many products to choose from, so it’s important to know what works best for you. Luckily, there are many tools and resources to help you find what works best.

From incontinence underwear that fits seamlessly into your life and keeps you dry all day to  boosters for extra absorbency protection, there is an incontinence product for every form of incontinence. For instance, if you tend to void smaller amounts of urine at a time, consider using a booster. If you tend to void larger amounts of urine, look for higher absorbency underwear that holds up to four cups of liquid at a time.


Lifestyle Changes

Along with performing Kegel exercises, the overactive bladder diet may be able to soothe bladder irritation and reduce leaks. Overactive bladder incontinence is characterized by the constant and intense urge to urinate. If this urge is too strong to resist and leads to leaks, it becomes incontinence.

The overactive bladder diet avoids foods that irritate the bladder. These include citrus fruits, caffeine, spicy foods, carbonated beverages, sugar, gluten, and dairy. Check out our blog to learn more about the overactive bladder diet and how you can implement it into your life.

 

Medical Treatments

There are many medical treatments available to help increase control of urinary incontinence. Medications can be used to calm the bladder and decrease signals from the bladder to urinate. Electrical stimulation treatment involves electrodes in the rectum or vagina that helps strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. This can help with stress incontinence and urge incontinence. Nerve stimulators and surgeries may also be used to treat incontinence.


Conclusion

Kegels are an exercise anyone can perform to increase bladder control and manage urinary incontinence. Kegels help strengthen the supportive muscles in your bladder and reduce leaks due to urinary incontinence. If you’re new to Kegels, there are many resources to help guide you.

If you live with incontinence, there are many ways to treat and manage it. To learn more about what products may be right for you and for information about living with incontinence, check out these resources.

 

Sources:

Kegel Exercises | Medline Plus

Urinary Incontinence | NAFC

Spotting a Pelvic Floor Problem | Pelvic Floor First

Finding a Pelvic Floor Excercise | Health QLD.