Urinary incontinence can have a massive impact on our everyday lives, says Jan Chaseley (pictured) - our Nurse Specialist in continence care. Pelvic floor muscle exercises can help both men and women gain more control over their symptoms.
We’ve put together a guide of tried and tested exercises to improve your pelvic floor muscles and discuss the benefits of doing them regularly.
Why might you need to do exercises to improve your pelvic floor muscles?
Your pelvic floor muscles act like a sling to support your bladder and bowel and need to be strong and supportive. If they become weak, the organs that are held by your pelvic floor muscles may lower. This is not only extremely uncomfortable but can also cause urinary incontinence.
Urinary incontinence in men and incontinence in women can take effect in a couple of ways; you might have leakage from your bladder when you cough, sneeze, laugh, exercise, lift or bend (stress incontinence).
When you have an urgent need to empty your bladder or bowel (urgency), a weak pelvic floor may mean you could sometimes fail to reach the toilet in time (urge incontinence).
Another problem that can occur from weak pelvic floor muscles, is the sensation of something coming down at the birth canal or back passage (prolapse). This can also cause an inability to control wind when bending over or lifting.
Performing pelvic floor muscle exercises can enhance both bladder and bowel control as well as have specific benefits for both women and men.
What are the benefits of pelvic floor muscle exercises for women?
Benefits include a lower risk of vaginal prolapse in women and quicker recovery after childbirth.
If you’re pregnant or have plans to get pregnant, performing pelvic floor exercises will lower your chances of having incontinence after having a baby.
What are the benefits of pelvic floor muscle exercises for men?
In men, pelvic floor exercises can help speed recovery after prostate surgery, reduce the risk of rectal prolapse and reduce the symptoms of erectile dysfunction.
Pelvic floor exercises can also help with sexual function; stronger muscles can mean increased sensitivity during sexual intercourse and stronger orgasms. Exercising these muscles can help improve urinary incontinence issues and other issues that arise from a weak bladder.
How might your pelvic floor muscles become weak?
There are several factors that can cause your pelvic floor muscles to become weak or damaged including:
- Pregnancy and childbirth
- Changes during the menopause
- Continual straining to empty the bowels
- Being overweight
- Frequent heavy lifting
- Chronic cough
- Following pelvic or prostate surgery
Pelvic floor exercises: step-by-step
What are pelvic floor exercises?
Also known as Kegel exercises, these are clench-and-release exercises that can make the pelvic floor muscles stronger around your bladder, bottom and vagina or penis.
How to locate your pelvic floor muscles
The best way to find your pelvic floor muscles is to try and stop the flow of urine when you visit the toilet. This is the area of muscles you want to focus on.
It is not recommended to regularly stop the flow of urine as it can cause harm to your bladder and cause problems with correct emptying, or urinary tract infections (UTIs).
If you are still struggling to locate the correct muscles, a helpful trick is to imagine that you're trying to stop yourself from passing wind from the bowel.
Pelvic floor exercises
Then, when performing pelvic floor muscles exercises, sit in a comfortable position and imagine you are trying to stop yourself from passing wind and urine. You must then squeeze and lift the muscles in that area.
This may feel uncomfortable and be hard, to begin with, but it is important to remain relaxed and be sure not to tighten your stomach, bottom, or thigh muscles while doing the exercises, or hold your breath.
You can begin to hold each squeeze for a few seconds: for example hold for a count of five, relax and repeat five times. Slowly increase as you feel the muscles strengthen. To improve endurance, build up your ability and strength until you can do 10 slow contractions at a time, holding them for 10 seconds each with rests of a few seconds in between.
Coughing, laughing, and exercise put pressure on the bladder. To strengthen your pelvic floor’s ability to react quickly to sudden strength, practice some quick contractions by drawing in the pelvic floor quickly and strongly. Hold for a count of one, before relaxing and repeating 10 times.
You can perform Kegel exercises standing, sitting, or lying down. If you are unable to feel a definite squeeze and lift action of your pelvic floor muscles, you should seek professional help and advice on how to get your pelvic floor muscles working correctly. The specialist nurse team at Benenden Hospital can support you with this.
Kegel exercise weights
For women, another option to help strengthen the vaginal and pelvic floor muscles and manage incontinence issues is to use Kegel exercise weights. These weights can come in different weights and sizes to help you contract and release different muscles.
You may also find a pelvic floor muscle stimulator can help – but it is important to still perform the exercises regularly.
How long do pelvic floor exercises take to work?
It takes approximately two to three months for the muscle to strengthen, and you need to continue them daily for them to be effective, so don’t give up! Once you notice the exercises working and results, you should continue to keep doing them.
Pelvic floor exercises shouldn’t be painful so if you are experiencing pain or discomfort, it is likely that you are not performing them correctly, but it’s important to discuss this with a healthcare professional. There are always alternative treatment methods and solutions and at Benenden Hospital we can discuss the best option for you.
You should seek professional help and support for urinary incontinence if it begins to affect your quality of life. It is a common problem, so don’t feel embarrassed to talk about your symptoms. This can also be the first step to finding a way to effectively manage the problem.
For a no-nonsense chat with our Private Patient team to discuss treatments we offer, complete our online enquiry form, contact us via Livechat or call 01580 363158.
Published on 17 June 2023