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what are Kegels?

by Lenore Howe, BS, MS

What are Kegels? Kegel exercises for men and women can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles enough to reduce urinary incontinence symptoms. Kegels may also improve sexual performance and pleasure for both men and women.

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We've had so many people ask us about Kegel exercises that we decided to put together a center all about them. We've included information about Kegel exercises for men and women, instructions for Kegel exercises and routines, forums, products, tip sheets and other resources. Let us know if we missed something and we'll try to add it here.

Kegel exercises (sometimes called Kegels), named after Dr. Arnold Kegel who developed them in 1948, are conscious contractions of the pelvic muscles to strengthen them after childbirth, aging, or surgery has stretched and weakened them. Also known as pelvic muscle exercise or rehabilitation, Kegels can significantly improve various types of incontinence in men and women.

We want people to know about Kegel exercises because they are a type of simple self-care that really works. Up to 80% of the incontinent population can benefit from Kegel exercises. 

Some types of incontinence that regular Kegel exercises may improve:

  • Stress incontinence during exercise, laughing, coughing or sneezing

  • Incontinence that occurs after prostate surgery or after hysterectomy

  • Post-childbirth incontinence

  • Incontinence that occurs with weight gain

  • Incontinence that occurs with aging
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A regular Kegel exercise routine can also help prevent some other problems from occurring at all:

  • Pelvic organ prolapse
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Decreased sexual response in men and women

Pelvic muscle exercise is probably good for most people. There are several techniques available. Take a look at the following articles that include instructions for Kegel exercises for both men and women and descriptions of various techniques:

Simple exercises:
Find the pelvic muscle, learn how to do basic exercises and plan out a reasonable regimen (do them at least three times a day). Figure out how to fit them into your daily routine and you are there. It may take 4-6 weeks of doing the exercises before you notice a change.

See Also: printable exercise log, Kegel quick start sheet, Kegel exercises and finding your pelvic muscle

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Kegel excercises with weights:
Vaginal weights are simple cones (like tampons) made of surgical steel in graduated weights. By inserting the lightest weight into the vagina before doing the exercise, you can increase the speed by which the muscles strengthen. The principle is similar to lifting weights - as you increase the resistance by increasing the weight, your muscles adapt and grow stronger. The weights are not necessary to a good Kegel program but will speed up your progress.

Biofeedback:
Biofeedback includes a group of therapeutic procedures that utilizes electronic or mechanical instruments to accurately measure, process, and provide 'feedback' to you about neuromuscular and or other body activity. In the case of Kegel exercises, biofeedback can be used to insure that you are contracting the right muscles, measure the actual force of the muscle contractions, and allow you to track the progress of your strengthening routine.

Electrical Stimulation
Electrical stimulation is often referred to as pelvic floor muscle electrical stimulation (PFES) or functional ES. PFES is the application of electrical current to the pelvic floor muscle. PFES combined with biofeedback may prove useful in that the electrical stimulation provides a passive contraction that increases awareness of pelvic floor muscle contractions in general. Applying a low grade electrical current to pelvic floor muscles stimulates the pelvic muscle to contract. PFES can be very beneficial for both men and women who are unable to contract these muscles on command as it may teach the correct action. The electrical currents stimulate and contract the same muscles as Kegel exercises and assist with identification and isolation of the pelvic muscle, increase pelvic muscle contraction strength, decrease unwanted bladder contraction and assist with normalizing pelvic muscle relaxation. They are often used in addition to simple Kegel exercises.

Kegels can be helpful for most people who are trying to overcome urinary incontinence and improve their sexual response.

References

Newman, DK. Managing and Treating Urinary Incontinence. Health Professions Pr. 2002.

Posted May 2008
Updated March 2009

Resources

We are strongly behind the use of Kegel exercises as a self-empowering treatment for incontinence and sexual issues. Review some of our resources about pelvic muscle exercises:

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