Kegel Exercises Help Incontinence After Pregnancy
May 21, 2001 -- Many women cringe when they think of the
embarrassment that can be caused by something as simple as sneezing, coughing,
or sharing a laugh with a friend. The cause of this embarrassment is urinary
incontinence, which affects millions of American women.
Although some women may associate the loss of bladder control
with aging, the first symptoms of urinary incontinence can start soon after
childbirth. This type of incontinence is caused by the stress and strain put on
the muscles lining the floor of the pelvic cavity during labor. The muscles,
known as pelvic floor muscles, are attached to the pelvic bone and act like a
hammock, holding in your pelvic organs and helping the bladder hold urine. When
they weaken, the result is a loss of bladder control and embarrassing accidents
that can occur at random and inopportune moments.
But the situation doesn't have to be tolerated because in most
cases, these muscles can be retrained to work properly. This is accomplished by
a serious of simple exercises, called Kegel exercises, repeated five or six
times a day.
In a study appearing in this month's issue of Obstetrics and
Gynecology, scientists from Switzerland found that women who started doing
the simple exercises two months after giving birth and did them for 12 weeks
had significantly less urinary incontinence than women who did not do them.
Nearly 60% of women who did the exercises two times a week under supervision
reported great improvement in their ability to control their bladder muscles.
In addition to the exercises, the women took part in a computerized training
process to help them become aware of and control these muscles and
electrostimulation, where a small electrical shock to the pelvic muscles
through the vagina helps improve muscle strength.
According to researchers led by Sylvain Meyer, MD, up to 34% of
women may experience urinary incontinence after vaginal delivery. Pelvic floor
exercises used as part of a program of "pelvic floor education" could
potentially reduce the rate of this problem by 60-90%, says Meyer, who is with
the department of obstetrics and gynecology, Lausanne University Hospital in
Continuing to do the exercises for the rest of their life is
crucial if women are going to keep the muscles toned and prevent further
weakening, says urologist Nicholas Franco, MD.
"Gynecologists tell their patients they need to do the
Kegel exercises, but I think where they fail is to spend the time showing them
how to do it properly or to have a nurse or someone in the office show them how
to do it," says Franco, head of female urology at Tulane University School
of Medicine in New Orleans. "At the very least, check on them from time to
time to see that [patients] are doing it right. Everybody knows about Kegels it
seems, but not everybody does them the right way."