21 June 2019

Your quick guide to Kegel exercises

Kegel muscle exercises can prevent or control urinary incontinence. But where does one start?

“Kegel… what?” Kegel exercises are often recommended to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which can help prevent or control urinary incontinence.

These exercises were named after Dr Arnold H. Kegel, an American gynaecologist who developed this non-surgical method in the 1940s to stop urinary leakage. He also invented the Kegel perineometer, an instrument for measuring the strength of the pelvic floor muscles. 

Kegel exercises involve nothing more than contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, and they can basically be done anywhere, anytime.

Why Kegel exercises are important

Your pelvic floor muscles are important for controlling your bladder and bowel. The stronger the muscles, the better the control. Unfortunately, there are many factors that can weaken the pelvic muscles and make them looser over time. These include:

  • Vaginal birth
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Chronic coughing
  • Chronic constipation, which leads to straining on the toilet
  • Age
  • Prostate surgery or treatment (men)

When the pelvic muscles start to weaken, it’s difficult to control the bladder and you may be prone to leaking urine.

Not a complete cure for urinary incontinence

While Kegel exercises can certainly help improve the strength of the pelvic floor muscles, not all cases of urinary incontinence are the same or caused by weakened pelvic floor muscles. You may benefit from Kegel exercises if you constantly leak a couple of drops of urine when sneezing, coughing or laughing (stress incontinence), or when you experience a sudden urge to urinate without being able to control it (urge incontinence).

Other forms of incontinence can be caused by problems of the nervous system. If you are not sure why you are suffering from urinary incontinence, you should see your doctor to find the underlying cause and obtain the correct treatment plan.

Kegel muscle exercises for women

  • Start by finding your pelvic floor muscles – to do that, try and stop the flow when you are urinating.
  • Now that you’ve identified the muscle, you can do these exercises any time.
  • Do the exercises at least three times a day, with ten to fifteen repetitions.

Kegel muscle exercises for men

  • Find your pelvic floor muscle by imagining that you are trying to stop passing gas. You can also try and engage these muscles by trying to lift up your testicles without using your hands.
  • Now you can perfect the technique by doing Kegels anywhere.
  • Do the exercises at least three times a day, with ten to fifteen repetitions. 

What to remember:

  • It will take a couple of weeks for the exercises to show results.
  • Don't hesitate to ask a medical professional more about Kegel exercises.
  • Combine Kegel exercises with other ways to manage your incontinence. 
  • Don't ignore urinary incontinence. The sooner you find help, the sooner you will be able to manage it. 

Image credit: iStock


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Incontinence Expert

Dr Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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