Kegel exercises (pronounced "kaygel") are a series of simple exercises you can do anywhere, any time. Stuck in traffic? TV too boring? Just start Kegel-ing! You will not regret it, especially if you are pregnant, just had a baby, if you have had lower abdominal surgery, if you want to spice up your sex life, or if you are a male and experiencing Erectile Dysfunction or you just want to last longer - Kegels will help.
Our pubococcygeal muscles (P.C.) act like a sling, suspended from our pubic bone in front to coccyx or tailbone in back. These muscles support all your pelvic organs, bladder, uterus, and bowel. Sphincters are rings of muscle that circle your anus, your bladder, and the vagina.
As a result of pregnancy, surgery, menopause, bladder infections, or simply aging, muscle tone decreases. And you know that old expression - if you don't use it, you lose it!
So, you may laugh, cough, do aerobic exercises, and you spurt small amounts of urine - very embarrassing. Or you may be stuck in traffic, get home, put your key in the lock, and suddenly, you've gotta pee - like, now! You crotch-clutch and dribble in your rush to the bathroom. You've got a problem.
Before you go to the doctor for treatment for incontinence or resort to adult diapers, you can take charge with Kegels. There is an easy way to tell which muscles you should exercise - try to stop the flow of urine when urinating. If you can stop the flow when tightening your PC muscles, you will know that you are contracting the correct muscles. (Although this is a good check for accurate Kegel technique, it is not recommended that you regularly perform these contractions while urinating.)
Here are some exercises that are helpful:
Sit on a hard chair; lean forward and tighten all your sphincter muscles, anal, vaginal, and urethral, in succession, front to back; hold the squeeze for one or two seconds; release, then contract from back to front.
If you are in a line-up at the store, you can squeeze all your PC muscles and lift up. You will notice that when you do this, you tuck in your tailbone and tighten your abdominal muscles at the same time. That's a good thing. Now, gradually release the muscles slowly, one by one.
Here's one they call The Flutter. You contract all the PC muscles quickly, and then release repeatedly.
Another one: Squeeze your PC muscles briefly for a count of five; hold; then squeeze harder, and hold for another five seconds; then squeeze as hard as possible and hold again for a count of five. Then, slowly reverse the process, releasing a little, holding for five, repeat, until your muscles relax completely.
As with any exercise program, start gradually. When your muscles begin to strengthen, increase the number of Kegels you do every day and the length of time you hold each contraction.
By making Kegel exercises part of your daily routine, you will improve urinary control (both women and men), as well as vaginal tone. In males, the additional blood-flow to the genitals due to exercising also helps with erections.
Sue Johanson, CM, RN.