You’ve heard of Kegel exercises, but what do they do exactly? And, how important are they? These simple exercises can be one of your best defenses against incontinence and prolapse. Kegels strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which control urine, hold your pelvic organs in place, and tighten during sex. After childbirth and menopause, many women struggle with mild to severe urinary incontinence and prolapse.
What Causes Incontinence and Prolapse?
Childbirth can stretch and weaken pelvic floor muscles, which can cause urine control problems. Decrease of estrogen in perimenopause and menopause can also weaken the wall of the vagina that supports the bladder and uterus. When this wall stops supporting these organs, they sag into the vagina, causing discomfort and pressure, which is called prolapse. In severe cases, all of the bladder or uterus can descend into the vagina. Prolapse can also be aggravated by aging, loss of muscle tone, and chronic illnesses such as lung disease because of the considerable coughing that creates pressure inside the abdomen.
What are the Symptoms of Prolapse?
Many women describe symptoms as a heaviness in the pelvis and the sensation of a ball hanging low inside their stomach. Backaches and difficulty urinating are common and sexual intercourse can be painful. When the bladder sags down, the bladder may not be able to fully empty when urine is passed. This to a “reservoir effect” and the remaining urine can irritate your bladder, cause an urgent need to urinate, and stress incontinence which is when urine leaks out when you cough, laugh, sneeze, or jump.
Prevention and Home Treatment
Women can prevent these symptoms through daily Kegels. Doctors recommend women start Kegel exercises around puberty, and that women especially do them during pregnancy. One of the best things about the exercise is that no one needs to know when you’re doing Kegels. It’s easy to incorporate them into driving (doing a set at every stop light) or while watching TV (commercial breaks). To do Kegels, isolate and tighten the muscles you use to stop urinating. Squeeze for three seconds; then relax for three. Your stomach and thighs should not be tight. Repeat for 10 to 15 times, three times a day. Each week, add one second until you can squeeze your muscles for 10 seconds. Don’t exercise while you’re urinating as this can hurt your bladder.
While daily Kegels can help with incontinence, your doctor can make additional recommendations depending on your situation. He or she may prescribe medicine (topical or oral estrogen) or a pessary that you can insert into your vagina that holds the walls of the vagina in place. Depending on the severity, your doctor may want you to see an uro-gynecologist or a urologist to talk about surgical options.