Recent research estimates that more than 4 million people in the U.S. suffer from symptoms of interstitial cystitis (IC), a chronic bladder condition. For most of them, staying close to a bathroom is a necessity. On average, a healthy adult urinates no more than seven times a day and seldom needs to get up at night to use the bathroom. Someone with a severe case of IC, on the other hand, may urinate as frequently as 60 times in 24 hours, including multiple nighttime trips to the bathroom.
When the pelvic floor muscles are weak, you are at greater risk for involuntary urine leaks. The value of improving urinary incontinence with Kegel exercises is now widely accepted.
Here's what you need to know:
Who can benefit from Kegel exercises? Anyone, at any age, who suffers urinary incontinence or leaks urine. While the exercise mainly helps those with stress urinary incontinence, it can also help those with another common type, urge incontinence from overactive bladder. With urge incontinence, you have a sudden urge to urinate and don't always make it to the bathroom. Men with urinary incontinence problems can do Kegel exercises, too. Studies on men have shown that these exercises improve urinary incontinence that can happen after prostate surgery.
How are Kegel exercises done? To exercise the pelvic floor muscle, pretend you are trying to stop the flow of urine. Pull in and squeeze those muscles. Hold the squeeze for about 10 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. Try for three or four sets of 10 contractions every day.
How do Kegel exercises help? Kegel exercises strengthen the muscles that help control the urethra. When these muscles are weak, the result can be urinary incontinence.
When should I expect to see results from my Kegels? Just as it takes time to build your biceps and strengthen any other muscles, it takes time to strengthen muscles in the pelvic floor. Give the Kegel exercises three to six weeks. And remember, you must keep doing them, and you should do them daily.
When and where should I do Kegel exercises? The beauty of Kegels is that you can really do them just about anywhere, anytime. No one would know unless you tell them what you are doing. Try doing a few sets of Kegels when you are in your car, sitting at your desk, or watching TV. To be sure you are doing Kegels correctly, ask your doctor or the nurse to describe the proper form. They can also check that you are doing them correctly.
Do I need any equipment for Kegel exercises? Not for doing Kegels alone. For women, some doctors may suggest using weighted cones as they do Kegel exercises. The idea is to insert these vaginal cones, available in various weights, and perform the Kegel exercises with the cones in place. A woman would gradually increase the weight of the cone she inserts. Sometimes, Kegel exercises are used in combination with biofeedback, a monitoring system that helps you gain control over bodily processes such as urinary control. And sometimes Kegels are done in combination with electrical stimulation, in which very brief doses stimulate muscles in the area. But you can choose to do Kegel exercises by themselves, with no equipment.
Are there any other benefits to Kegel exercises? Yes. Kegel exercises aren't just good for improving urinary incontinence. They are often recommended in sex therapy That was an accidental "side effect" discovered by Kegel. He heard back from his patients about these sexual benefits. The pelvic floor muscles contract more strongly during orgasm once they are strengthened.
SOURCES: American Academy of Family Physicians: "Urinary Incontinence: Kegel Exercises for Your Pelvic Muscles." National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse: "Urinary Incontinence in Women." National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia: "Urge Incontinence." WebMD Medical News: "Kegel Exercises Help Women With Urinary Incontinence." WebMD Medical News: "Kegel Exercises Ease Stress Incontinence." WebMD Health Guide: "Benefits of Kegel Exercises for Incontinence." WebMD Sex Matters: "What is a kegel and can it really help my sex life?