Many events in a persons life can weaken their pelvic floor muscles:
- Not keeping your pelvic muscles active
- Being overweight
- Getting older
- Heavy lifting
- Coughing for a long time, such as asthma, bronchitis, or smoker’s cough
Pelvic Floor Muscles
The part of your body including your hip bones is the pelvic area. At the bottom of the pelvis, several layers of muscle attach to the front, back, and sides of the pelvic bone. These muscles are your pelvic floor muscles that hold up your bladder and help keep your bladder from leaking urine. Urinary leakage or loss of bladder control is also called incontinence.
Weak pelvic muscles can cause bladder control problems. You may think bladder control problems are something that happens only when you get older, but it is a common health problem for women of all ages. Men leak urine too, but the problem is more common in women.
Kegel Exercises for Weak Pelvic Muscles
If your pelvic muscles get weak, you can help make them stronger by doing pelvic muscle exercises – called Kegel exercises. Kegel exercises can help you to regain control of your bladder. Exercising your pelvic floor muscles every day strengthens muscles that hold the bladder and many other organs in place. To do Kegel exercises, you just squeeze your pelvic floor muscles. Once you learn how to “Kegel,” you can Kegel anywhere.
Here are a few ways to find the right pelvic muscles to squeeze:
- 1. Try to stop the flow of urine when you are sitting on the toilet. If you can do it, you are using the right muscles. (Do this to learn which muscles are the right ones to use – but only do this once a week, as your bladder may not empty the way it should if you stop and start your stream of urine more often than that).
- 2. Imagine that you are trying to stop passing gas. Squeeze the muscles you would use. If you sense a “pulling” feeling, those are the right muscles for pelvic exercises.
Many women have trouble finding the right muscles to squeeze. It is best to see a doctor, nurse, or physical therapist to learn how to do Kegel exercises correctly. Kegel exercises are most effective when you have received proper instruction from a health care professional. You can also exercise by using special weights or biofeedback. Ask your doctor about these exercise aids.
- 1. First, empty your bladder. Then find a quiet place to practice so you can concentrate, such as your bedroom or bathroom.
- 2. Start Kegel exercises lying down. This is the easiest position. When your muscles get stronger, you can do Kegel exercises sitting or standing as you like. Lie on the floor. Pull in the pelvic muscles and hold for a count of 3. Then relax for a count of 3. Try to do 10 to 15 squeezes, 3 times a day, but don’t overdo it.
Every day, use three positions: lying down, sitting, and standing. Using all three positions makes the muscles strongest. You can do these exercises any time, while lying on the floor, sitting at a desk, in the car, waiting in line, or standing in the kitchen doing the dishes.
Be patient and don’t give up. You may not feel your bladder control improve until after 3 to 6 weeks. Most women do notice an improvement after a few weeks.
Word of Caution When Doing Kegel Exercises:
- Be careful not to tighten your stomach, legs, or other muscles at the same time. Squeezing the wrong muscles can put more pressure on your bladder control muscles. Just squeeze the pelvic muscle.
- Don’t hold your breath.
- You may feel that if you increase the number of repetitions and the frequency of your exercises, you will speed up your progress, but overexercising these muscles can instead cause muscle fatigue and increase urine leakage.
- If you feel discomfort in your abdomen or back while doing these exercises, you are probably doing them wrong.
Sneezing, Lifting, or Jumping
You can protect your pelvic muscles from more damage by bracing yourself. Squeeze your pelvic muscles tightly and hold on until after you sneeze, lift, or jump. Sudden pressure from such actions can hurt pelvic muscles.
Not all bladder control problems are alike. Urine leakage has many possible causes. Some other bladder control problems are caused by:
- Damaged nerves.
- Medicine that dulls the nerves so that you can sleep or relax. This medicine may dull the nerves in the bladder and keep them from signaling the brain when the bladder is full.
- Alcohol – Drinking alcohol can also cause these nerves to fail.
- Caffeine – Caffeine drinks such as coffee and cola also cause the bladder to fill quickly. Make sure your drinks are decaf.
- Tumors in the brain, spinal cord, or bladder.
- Infection – A urinary tract infection can irritate bladder nerves and cause the bladder to squeeze without warning. This type of incontinence goes away once the infection has been cured.
- Excess weight – Being overweight can put pressure on the bladder and contribute to stress incontinence.
Your doctor or nurse will try to help solve your bladder control problem by identifing the type of incontinence you have. You will need to find a doctor who is skilled in helping women with urine leakage. If your primary doctor shrugs off your problem as normal aging, for example, ask for a referral to a specialist – a urogynecologist or a urologist who specializes in treating female urinary problems.