Millions of Americans suffer from various forms of urinary incontinence. Stress incontinence is the most common form of urinary incontinence and is particularly prevalent among women. The condition happens when some kind of physical activity or movement (such as running, sneezing, coughing, lifting) puts pressure or stress on your bladder.
Stress incontinence is caused by the weakening of muscles that support your bladder and that regulate the release of urine.
For women, this may happen after childbirth. Age is another common factor in weakening pelvic floor muscles.
In men, a common cause of stress incontinence is prostate surgery as it can weaken the sphincter.
Though it’s a common condition, incontinence can lead to a sense of embarrassment. If it’s preventing you from social activities or work outside the home, there are some things you can do to help regain control.
Whatever the cause, we know that strengthening the muscles that control urination can help a great deal. These exercises can also benefit people suffering from urge incontinence as well as overactive bladder.
The pelvic floor muscles are a group of muscles that support the bladder, small intestine and rectum. Kegel exercises target these muscles and can be done just about any time. Here’s a link to a Mayo Clinic article on Kegels.
Find your pelvic floor muscles – to identify the right muscles, squeeze the same muscles you use when you want to stop urination or prevent yourself from passing gas. That’s the group of muscles you’ll need to flex during Kegels.
Focus on the right muscles – it’s important to focus only on the pelvic floor muscles. Don’t squeeze your abdomen, buttock or inner thigh muscles.
Breathe through the exercises – it’s natural to want to hold your breath as you do Kegels, but you should try to breathe during these exercises. If you hold your breath, it can actually put more strain on the pelvic floor by ‘pushing it down and out’. With Kegels, you want to have a sensation of your genitals drawing up and in.
Long squeezes – start by trying to squeeze your pelvic floor muscles for three to five seconds, then relax for three to five seconds. Gradually extend the duration to about 10 seconds. Do three sets of 10 long squeezes about three times per day.
Short squeezes – You can also do a series of 10 short squeezes where you squeeze your muscles for one second then relax for a second.
Like any new activity like this, it can take some practice to isolate and work the right muscles. Keep practicing and you’ll get the hang of it. It could take a few weeks or a few months of practice for you to really see the benefits of regular Kegels.
While Kegels are excellent for isolating and strengthening your pelvic floor muscles, other exercises can help as well.
Yoga - Yoga can be an excellent way to introduce regular pelvic floor exercises into your routine. Here’s an insightful article from YogaJournal.com that reviews a series of poses to isolate and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
Here are three other exercises you can try:
Malasana (yoga squat) - This pose can help stretch and strengthen the groin and the muscles of the inner thigh. You can do a modified malasana pose by standing with your feet about hip-width apart. Keep your feet flat as you squat down so that your pelvis approaches the floor.
Bridges – Start by lying on your back on the floor. Lift and bend your knees, and put the soles of your feet firmly on the floor. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles as you push your hips off the floor, keeping your back straight. Hold this for 5 to 10 seconds before releasing and lowering your buttocks back to the floor. Repeat this 5 to 10 times, three times per day.
Bird dogs – Start on all fours with your wrists aligned with your shoulders and your knees aligned with your hips. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles, then simultaneously raise and point your right arm straight ahead while lifting and pointing your left leg straight behind. Lower your right arm and left leg, then do the same with your left arm and right leg. Keep your spine in alignment throughout the exercise. Repeat this 5 to 10 times on each side.
Your pelvis is shaped like a bowl with the pelvic bones comprising a ring and the muscles forming the bottom (or pelvic floor) of the bowl.
Your pelvic floor actually does a lot of work. It supports the structures of the abdomen and pelvis. Everything below your chest is supported by your pelvic floor. Actions like coughing and sneezing put sudden strain on the pelvic floor muscles. Pregnancy and excess weight can put steady additional pressure on them as well, which can lead to a gradual weakening of the pelvic floor.
Additionally, your pelvic floor muscles must contract and expand to allow for defecation, urination, sexual and reproductive function.
That’s a lot of important activity for a group of muscles that we all tend to ignore!
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