What Are Kegels? And Should I Be Doing Them?

You’ve likely heard of Kegels, especially if you’ve had a baby, but what exactly is a Kegel? And who should be doing them? We sat down with two pelvic floor physical therapists to find out.

What is a Kegel?

“A Kegel is a pelvic floor contraction that serves as a strengthening exercise to help maintain healthy pelvic floor function,” says Alicia Baker, DPT, PT, CLT, pelvic floor physical therapist at Kettering Health. “Just like core exercises prevent back pain, pelvic floor strengthening helps to prevent incontinence and makes for a strong sling of muscles to support your pelvic organs.”

What is the pelvic floor? And why does it need exercise?

For something you can’t see, the pelvic floor is responsible for a lot.

“The pelvic floor is a group of muscles, ligaments, and fascia in your lower pelvis,” says Nicole Cornett, DPT, PT, pelvic floor physical therapist at Kettering Health. “The pelvic floor supports the bladder, intestines, and uterus; helps with bowel and bladder control; provides support during coughing, sneezing, and lifting; and is engaged during sexual activity and childbirth.”

Life events like pregnancy, childbirth, and aging can all impact the function of the pelvic floor.

Should I be doing Kegels or other pelvic floor exercises?

In most cases, yes. “Pelvic floor exercises are very important for pelvic health,” says Baker. “Women without any pelvic floor dysfunction are safe to perform Kegels daily for general pelvic health maintenance. Once a patient begins experiencing dysfunction such as incontinence, prolapse, and pain, it is necessary to see a physical therapist to determine if strengthening or lengthening exercises are appropriate. And if you are planning to have a baby, are pregnant, or have had a baby, pelvic floor exercises can provide big benefits.”

Why are pelvic floor exercises important for women before, during, and after pregnancy?

In early pregnancy, pelvic floor exercises are important for stability as your body adjusts to changes in shape, center of gravity, and hormones. Toward the end of pregnancy, there are specific exercises that can help prepare the pelvic region for delivery, including pelvic movements, breathing, and pelvic floor relaxation/elongation exercises. After delivery, the pelvic floor muscles and tissues have stretched and may have experienced trauma from labor and birth. These muscles and tissues may benefit from pelvic floor physical therapy.

I had a baby and now I occasionally “leak” … is this normal?

Many women experience urine leakage, also known as urinary incontinence, during pregnancy and after delivery. While this may be a somewhat common problem, it is not normal.

“At some point, our society has thought that urine leakage after having a child is normal,” says Cornett. “You don’t have to accept urinary incontinence as a new normal, and pelvic floor physical therapy can help.”

How can I learn to do Kegels and other pelvic floor exercises?

“As with any exercise, instruction and oversight from a professional are always best,” says Baker. “If you’re struggling with urinary or bowel incontinence, pain during intercourse, low back pain, or another issue that is interfering with your daily life, talk to your primary care physician, urologist, or OB-GYN. They can refer you to a pelvic floor physical therapist for evaluation and treatment.”

What can I expect at a pelvic floor physical therapy evaluation?

“A lot of people are nervous about a pelvic floor physical therapy evaluation, but there is no need to be,” explains Cornett. “You will work with the physical therapist to learn how to correctly complete targeted pelvic floor exercises and address your specific health concerns to ultimately build a specific home program. Both evaluations and treatments are conducted in private rooms and usually last one hour. We are trained to assess pelvic floor function both internally or externally and cater both to the comfort level and needs of the patient. Usually, a person can complete a course of treatment in 5-6 visits.”

Any woman who suffers from inconvenient and painful issues like urinary incontinence, low back pain, or pain during intercourse, can benefit from pelvic floor physical therapy. Learn more about pelvic floor physical therapy.

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