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Combating Incontinence with Kegels

Verified by Kiera Powell, R.N. and written by Chad Birt on Thu Sep 16 2021.
Medically Verified

Urinary and bowel incontinence can strike at any time, even if you’re in relatively good health. Fortunately, combating incontinence with Kegels is possible.

As you age, your pelvic floor muscles weaken, increasing the risk of involuntary voids. If you’ve started limiting your activities due to the symptoms of incontinence, make an appointment with your doctor. Often, activity modifications like scheduling toilet trips, avoiding certain foods, and strengthening your pelvic floor are enough to provide significant relief.

This blog answers the following questions:

What are Kegels?

Kegel exercises, or Kegels, strengthen your pelvic floor, a group of muscles that support your small intestine, bladder, and rectum. They were invented during the late 1940s by American gynecologist, Arnold Henry Kegel, in an effort to treat urinary incontinence nonsurgically.

What causes a weak pelvic floor?

A weak pelvic floor can occur for various reasons, including:

  • The natural aging process

  • Excessive straining due to constipation

  • Surgery

  • Chronic cough

  • Obesity

You might also experience a weak pelvic floor due to pregnancy and childbirth.

What types of incontinence can benefit from Kegels?

Kegel exercises are an easy way to reduce the symptoms of several types of incontinence, including:

Stress incontinence. Stress incontinence causes the involuntary leakage of urine due to excess pressure on your bladder from coughing, laughing, or sneezing. 

Urge incontinence. Urge incontinence occurs due to abnormal bladder contractions. It causes a sudden need to urinate, followed by involuntary leakage. Urge incontinence can occur due to an infection, bladder stones, or a nerve problem.  

Bowel incontinence. Bowel incontinence refers to an involuntary void of stool. 

Is there anyone who shouldn’t do Kegel exercises?

Combating incontinence with Kegels is safe and usually well-tolerated, but this type of exercise isn’t recommended for everyone. That’s especially true if your incontinence is due to an overactive or tense pelvic floor. If the muscles that make up your pelvic floor are tight and unable to relax, they become fatigued and are less responsive, increasing the risk of accidents. 

It can be difficult to determine the difference between a weak and an overactive pelvic floor, so it’s important to visit your doctor before combating incontinence with Kegels.

How do you perform Kegel exercises?

Here’s our four-step guide for mastering Kegels:

Step 1 – Find your pelvic floor muscles. Before you can start combating incontinence with Kegels, you need to identify your pelvic floor. To do that, try to stop urinating midstream. Then, relax your muscles to continue urinating. Repeat these same steps a few times. Once you know how to flex and relax your pelvic floor muscles, you can do Kegels sitting, standing, or lying down.

Step 2 – Practice your technique. When combating incontinence with Kegels, imagine you’re sitting on top of a rounded object like an egg or a small ball. Squeeze your pelvic muscles and imagine you’re lifting the object. Hold your muscles tight for three seconds and then relax them for another three. Repeat.

Step 3 – Keep breathing. If you’re new to combating incontinence with Kegels, you might be tempted to hold your breath. Don’t! Take deep breaths in and out while you’re practicing. Only flex the muscles in your pelvic floor, not your abs, buttocks, or thighs.

Step 4 – Do at least three sets daily.  For combating incontinence with Kegels to work, you need to practice them regularly. Most urologists recommend a regimen of three sets of 10-15 Kegels each day.

If you prefer watching a video, check out the links below:

Kegel Exercises for Women:

Find on YouTube

Kegel Exercises for Men:

Find on YouTube

Are there different types of Kegel exercises?

Kegel exercises fall into two distinct categories–– short muscle contractions and long-hold muscle contractions.

Short muscle contractions. Short muscle contractions strengthen the muscles fibers that control your urethra, shutting off urine flow. When performing short muscle contractions, hold your pelvic floor muscles for between 1-2 seconds while breathing normally.

Long-hold muscle contractions. Long-hold muscle contractions increase the endurance of your pelvic floor. When performing long-hold muscle contractions, focus on tightening, lifting, and holding your pelvic floor muscles for 5 seconds with a goal of increasing the interval over time. 

How often should I do Kegels?

If you plan on combating incontinence with Kegels, it’s important to practice every day. Because they’re easy to perform (and discreet) you can do them just about anywhere, including at work, while eating, or before falling asleep. 

How long does it take for Kegel exercises to work?

Kegel exercises won’t stop incontinence overnight, but they can significantly reduce your symptoms over the course of several weeks or months. Telltale signs your bladder health is improving include:

  • Longer breaks between toilet trips

  • Fewer accidents

  • Increased number of Kegel repetitions

  • Dry underwear

  • Improved sleep

If you follow your doctor’s instructions but fail to see an improvement in your symptoms, don’t wait to schedule a second appointment. Following a comprehensive exam, your provider can make adjustments to your treatment plan as necessary.

We hope you’ve found this guide to Kegel exercises helpful. If you have questions or need assistance selecting incontinence products, please reach out to our friendly Care Specialists by calling (855) 855-1666 or send an email to support@carewell.com.

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Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance B2B and B2C medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.