Although urinary incontinence (UI) is very common – it affects around 25 million Americans – women are far more likely to suffer from it. This loss of bladder control can happen for many reasons. The most common cause in women is a weakening of the pelvic floor muscles due to pregnancy, childbirth, aging and weight gain. Because the muscles no longer have the strength they used to, urine can be accidentally released when you cough, laugh, sneeze, or exercise. Most of the time, UI does not have any serious consequences, but it can cause a great deal of emotional distress.
The good news is that you can strengthen your pelvic floor muscles to prevent UI or to regain lost bladder control. These training exercises, better known as Kegel exercises, can help strengthen the muscles under the uterus, bladder and bowel (large intestine). They can help both men and women who have problems with urine leakage. You don’t need any special equipment and you can practice them anywhere – while you’re watching television, driving your car, working at your desk, or brushing your teeth.
The first step in practicing Kegel exercises is finding your pelvic floor muscles. The best way to do this is while you’re urinating. Try stopping your urine midstream while staying mindful of the muscles you are tightening. Once you are able to do this, you have found your pelvic floor muscles!
Now that you know which muscles you’ll be working, try this simple exercise to increase your bladder control:
– Tighten your pelvic floor muscles
– Hold the contraction for five seconds, and then relax for five seconds
– Try it four or five times in a row
– Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions
It’s important that you isolate the exercise to your pelvic floor muscles. During your exercises, make sure you keep the following muscles relaxed:
– Buttocks (the deeper, anal sphincter muscle should contract)
Always empty your bladder before doing Kegel exercises. As a beginner, you should find a quiet, private place to sit or to lie down before doing your exercises. With more and more practice, you’ll find you can do them anywhere.
It’s very important to note if you feel any pain in your abdomen or back. This can mean that you are doing the exercises wrong. Never overdo your Kegels. As with any exercise routine, you want to make sure you listen to what your body is telling you. Before you try any of these recommendations, consult with your OB/GYN to make sure it is the right choice for you and your specific condition. Talking about UI with a compassionate, caring physician can really help emotionally and physically. Remember, UI is much more common than you think, and there are solutions to this problem.