Working out and getting fit is about more than biceps and box jumps. For females, it actually includes maintaining the health of your pelvic floor — a key group of muscles that are integral to pregnancy, labor and delivery, overall continence, and even pleasure during intercourse.
“Pelvic floor muscles are the muscles that control the flow of the urine and bowel movements. When they are not strong enough, patients may experience incontinence, like stress incontinence, which occurs with coughing or sneezing, or urge incontinence,” says gynecologist Paulami Guha, MD, women’s health specialist and surgeon at Baptist Health and North Florida Gynecology Specialists, LLC. “This comes with menopause, multiple childbirths, or connective tissue disease that can make the pelvic floor weak.”
Dr. Guha further explained that Kegels can be compared to consistently toning any other major muscle group, much like strength training and heavy lifting. Gynecologist Maryellen Wechter, MD, women’s health specialist and surgeon at Baptist Health and North Florida Gynecology Specialists, LLC, also added that in some cases, Kegels can help reduce pelvic pain as a result of spasms.
“Sometimes, the problem with the pelvic floor isn’t so much that it’s weak, but that it’s asymmetrically weak spasming in some part of the muscle,” she shares. “That can cause pain. We find in gynecology that pelvic floor therapy, and Kegels, if done correctly, can help treat pelvic pain.”
Unsure if you’re actually doing Kegels correctly? Try this technique, as suggested by Dr. Wechter: “Sit on the toilet and stop your urine — those are the muscles. That squeeze you do is the group of muscles you’re trying to use during a Kegel exercise. I remind patients that these muscles are hard to control, so it takes a little bit of work to strengthen the mind-muscle connection, and concentration to not squeeze the belly or buttocks during that time.”
Make Kegels a Priority
One obstacle that many women report is that they often forget to exercise their pelvic floor on a consistent basis. The easiest way to remember to do Kegels each day is to pair them with a regular activity, such as sitting on the couch to watch a favorite TV program or while sitting at a stoplight.
“You don’t need a special place to do Kegels,” Dr. Guha explains. “They can be done even when you are sitting at the computer working or watching TV. We recommend doing them at least three times a day, 10 each time. You have to hold each one for at least five seconds.”
As a matter of fact, it isn’t possible to do too many Kegels. Dr. Guha and Dr. Wechter agree that while the pelvic floor can’t get too strong, they suggest consulting with your gynecologist if any muscle spasms occur due to practicing Kegels. If they do cause you to spasm, you might need to adjust your technique or address another issue that may be resulting in an overabundance of muscle tone.
Both doctors also state that Kegels isn’t an exercise they recommend only when you’re having an issue, such as incontinence. It can be beneficial to women for the longterm, even those with a “healthy” pelvic floor.
“Doing Kegel exercises isn’t just something to do when there’s a problem, but something to do to help maintain those muscles for support of the organs and pleasure during intercourse,” says Dr. Wechter. “We like to see women do these throughout their lives. Once we see people with a problem, then you’re working from the negative into the positive.”
Not Just for Ladies
Memo to men: Kegels aren’t just for women. A recent study from the University of the West of England in Bristol found that performing Kegel exercises helped 40% of men with erectile dysfunction (ED) regain normal function. Another 35% showed some improvement. While it certainly isn’t the only treatment available for men struggling with ED, Kegels certainly can’t hurt.
“The pelvic floor is very similar between men and women, so there’s probably no drawback to doing Kegels for men,” says Dr. Wechter. “As for how they help with ED, it’s hard to find any good literature. For men to practice Kegels correctly, we would say squeeze the muscles you use when you try not to pass gas.”
Dr. Guha adds that a common contributor to ED is certain medication, though he doesn’t have the major risk factors for pelvic floor weakness that women do, such as childbirth.
When Can You See Results?
For those dealing with incontinence due to a weak pelvic floor can start to feel results in three to six months after starting a consistent Kegels routine. Women with other reasons for incontinence, such as a tumor or blockage, may need a bit more time or additional treatments.
If you’re still noticing no significant change, you may need to seek some expert guidance. Baptist Health’s Total Control classes are a medically-based exercise program designed to strengthen the core and pelvic floor to help aid with bladder control.
“In some patients, the reason for pelvic pain is spasm of the muscles, similar to how a stress headache or jaw tightness can cause pain. Reverse Kegels, learned with a physical therapist, can help relax those muscles,” Dr. Guha explains. “After childbirth, even if you’re not older, a woman will leak here and there and we tell them to wear a pad and do their Kegels.”
If you are experiencing incontinence or pelvic floor issues, visit 4Her or call 904-202-4HER (4437) to find the right provider for you and make an appointment.