Millions of individuals experience some degree of urinary incontinence or involuntary loss of urine. Stress incontinence, one of the four types of urinary incontinence, is more common in women. Women suffering from stress incontinence experience the leakage of urine when they cough, sneeze, laugh or engage in any activity that increases the pressure on the bladder and/or the supporting tissue. Kegel exercises (or kegels) are at-home exercises you can do to help improve bladder control. When performed daily, these exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscle that supports the bladder.
- Learn how to do the exercises by using one of these techniques to identify the pelvic floor muscle:
Start to void. Once the stream has started, try to stop it. If the flow of urine stops, even slightly, you have found the correct muscle. Note: once you identify the muscle, do the exercises only when you are not voiding.
Another technique is to squeeze the muscle in your rectum (not your buttocks) that would prevent you from passing gas. If you feel a pulling or tightening sensation, you are using the correct muscle.
A woman can also identify the muscle by inserting a finger into the vagina and tightening the vagina around it. If you can feel the tightening, you have identified the correct muscle.
- Once you have identified the correct muscle, be sure you are not using the stomach or buttock muscles when doing your kegel exercises. As you practice the exercise, place your hand on your stomach to make sure you are not contracting it. If you feel your stomach muscle move, you are using that muscle. The same goes for your buttock muscle.
- Be sure to breathe! The tendency is to hold your breath while concentrating. Remember to breathe!
- Each exercise consists of squeezing and then relaxing the pelvic floor muscle. Squeeze the muscle for five seconds and then relax it for 10 seconds. Practice them in a lying, sitting and standing positing. Do not do the exercises when you are voiding!
Do 40 exercises every day, divided into four sets of 10 exercises each. Set aside some time in the morning, at lunch time, in the evening and at bed time to perform the exercises. Finding time to do them each day is very important. Like any kind of muscle training, these exercises take time to work, so don’t get discouraged. There is seldom much improvement seen before four to six weeks.
- Attempt to squeeze the muscle just before you know a stress is coming, like sneezing, coughing, laughing, lifting or bending.
Kegel exercises are one of the many non-invasive treatment options that women experiencing stress incontinence can try first. However, for some individuals, non-invasive therapies may not completely eliminate the symptoms of incontinence. These individuals may be good candidates for minimally invasive surgeries that take as little as a few minutes to perform.