How To Practise Pelvic Floor Exercises for Urinary Incontinence
- On April 24, 2018
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Urinary incontinence remains a topic people are embarrassed to talk about. As a result, many sufferers are unaware that there are non-invasive methods that can strengthen our pelvic floor, such as pelvic floor exercises.
Men and women who are fit and healthy may feel that weak pelvic floor muscles are a health problem faced only by people in old age. This condition is often a taboo topic that we avoid talking about. However, when people find themselves suffering from leakages due to a weak pelvic floor, the need to learn more about the pelvic floor muscles becomes prominent. Statistics from the UK show “This Morning” show a staggering percentage of women living with pelvic floor problems. The following shocking statistics show just how problematic this lack of understanding is:
– 42% of women in the UK are sufferers of weak pelvic floor muscles
– 40% of women are too embarrassed to consult their Doctor
– 33% of women suffer problems 5 years after childbirth
– On average women wait 5 years before consulting their Doctor
Are you worried you have incontinence due to weak pelvic floor muscles? Read about the symptoms of incontinence to look out for.
What Are The Pelvic floor Muscles?
The pelvic floor contains a group of muscles that form a supportive sling in the lower pelvis. This sling, made up of 14 different muscles arranged in three layers, attaches to the pelvic bones. The pelvic floor muscles support the womb, the bladder and the bowels. Many factors can weaken the pelvic floor in women, such as pregnancy, childbirth, ageing and weight gain. Heavy lifting, chronic back pain and trauma to the pelvic region and frequent straining can also cause weak pelvic floor muscles. When the pelvic floor muscles are functioning properly, you are in complete control over when you urinate. When these muscles are weakened severely, frequent leaks start to happen. Incontinence has a huge impact on an individual’s life, both physically and mentally. As Physiotherapist Sue Croft asserts, “our confidence, our self-esteem, our dignity, can all be shattered if there is an upset about something as basic as our continence control.” Practising exercises for incontinence is an effective and underrated method to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
Who Can Benefit from Pelvic Floor Exercises?
Both men and women can benefit from pelvic floor exercises. If your incontinence is caused by weak pelvic floor muscles, experts recommend that you try this method as a safe, first option. These exercises are most commonly practised by those with stress incontinence, who leak urine when pressure is put on the bladder. They are also useful for those with a strong, sudden urge to urinate just before losing a large amount of urine, which is also known as urge incontinence. Individuals with mixed incontinence, which is a mix of stress and urge incontinence, are also advised to try the exercises. Pelvic floor exercises are, however, less helpful for those who experience severe urine leakage or have no bladder control. They should also not be relied upon by those who unexpectedly leak small amounts of urine due to a full bladder (overflow incontinence).
One of the reasons why urologists and professionals are advocates of pelvic floor muscle exercises is that they have no serious adverse effects. Evidence over the years has shown the exercises to be hugely successful in reducing and even fully treating incontinence. A prospective randomized trial was conducted with 71 women seen for treatment of urinary incontinence in two referral clinics. Forty-four percent of enrollees in the study had a 50% improvement in the number of daily incontinence episodes. For all individuals, the mean number of daily incontinence episodes decreased from 2.6 to 1.7 for genuine stress incontinence and from 3.0 to 1.7 for mixed incontinence.
What Are the Different Exercises That You Can Try?
Practising pelvic floor exercises does not mean you have to go to extreme lengths in buying specialised equipment. In fact, most exercises do not require you to buy anything. Research shows that up to 50% of women trying to do pelvic floor muscle exercises from a pamphlet get the technique wrong. It is therefore important to be aware of how to do the different exercises. Here are a few simple exercises you can try:
Traditional Kegel Exercises
Kegel exercises, named after American gynaecologist, Arnold Kegel, strengthen the muscles of your pelvic floor. Kegel exercises consist of contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles. Kegels are particularly useful if you are experiencing stress incontinence during the day, having difficulty during activities such as laughing, coughing or jumping.
Try the following steps to practise Kegel Exercises:
- Identify the right muscles. Do this by stopping urination midstream. The muscles you are tightening are the pelvic floor muscles.
- Once you have found these muscles, contract these muscles and hold for 5 seconds. Then release for 5 seconds.
- For maximum impact, repeat this exercise 10 times, 3 times a day.
It is common for women to begin Kegel exercises alone with no props, then move on to using kegel balls or cones to increase resistance. These intensify your workout. Kegel balls help women feel their kegel exercises and progressively strengthen them through lifting the weight. You should ideally with the smallest weight that you can comfortably lift and squeeze using your pelvic floor muscles for a number of repetitions. These balls are available in a wide range of different styles, sizes, colours, materials and weights.
Common for general exercise, people are often unaware that squats can be done to improve symptoms of incontinence. Squats engage the largest muscles in the body and are very effective in strengthening the pelvic floor muscles.
Here are the steps necessary to do this exercise:
- Stand in an upright position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and toes slightly pointed out.
- Bend your knees and push your hips and butt back as if you’re going to sit in a chair. Ensure you keep your chin tucked and neck neutral.
- Gradually drop further down until your thighs are parallel to the ground, keeping your weight in your heels and knees bowed outward slightly.
- Straighten your legs, returning to an upright position.
The Split Tabletop strengthens your hips and abs in addition to strengthening the pelvic floor muscles.
Follow these steps to practise this exercise:
- Begin the exercise with your back on the floor and knees bent so your thighs are perpendicular to the floor. Your shins should be parallel to the floor.
- Your abs should be braced and your inner thighs should be activated, with your legs touching.
- Begin to slowly split your legs so each knee falls outward, reaching a position that is comfortable.
- Slowly raise back to the start.
- Complete 10 to 15 reps and 3 sets.
This exercise is less commonly known than the previous suggestions. However, when this is done correctly, it is highly affecting in activating and strengthening the pelvic floor muscles.
Simply follow these 5 stages to do the exercise effectively:
- Lie on the floor. Bend your legs at a 90-degree angle and your arms straight at your sides with palms facing down.
- Inhale and push through your heels, raising your hips off the ground by squeezing your glutes, hamstrings, and pelvic floor. Your body should form a straight line down from the knees.
- Pause in this position for 1-2 seconds at the top, then return to the starting position.
- Complete 10-15 reps and 2-3 sets, resting 30 to 60 seconds between sets
Use an Exercise Ball
Using an exercise ball during squats, lunges and ball bridges provides support for the spine and encourages the use of your buttock muscles. This helps stimulate the pelvic floor muscles. You can also put weight on the ball to improve your workout. Practising leg floats, leg extensions and side-to-side knee rolls whilst lying on the back with the feet on the ball are good ways to work the pelvic floor muscles.
Things to Remember about Pelvic Floor Exercises:
– These exercises are often not successful in people with no bladder control
– Although women are more at risk of having weak pelvic floor muscles, these exercises are suitable for both men and women
– These exercises are common in women who have just had a child
– Women can purchase products such as kegel balls to help improve the success of these
– Doctors often recommend pelvic floor exercises as the first option for incontinence treatment as they are not invasive. Do not be embarrassed, a large proportion of people will be practising these.
It is thought that as many as 50% of people with urinary incontinence do not look for products or seek medical advice. Do not suffer in silence. You can look through our product range for men’s and women’s incontinence to help you manage your symptoms discretely.
Are you a beginner in practising pelvic floor exercises? The video below by physical therapist Michelle Kenway provides tips on finding your pelvic floor muscles and starting exercises.