The Pelvic System and Kegel Exercises
If you’ve ever mentioned light bladder leakage (stress incontinence) in passing while chatting with friends, one of the first replies you might hear in response is “do kegels”. Even healthcare professionals will sometimes dismiss light leakage, suggesting to their patients that they should do more kegels. But kegels alone might not be the answer.
Kegel exercises are pelvic floor exercises. The exercises consist of repetitions of contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, thereby strengthening the muscles. Kegel exercises can help alleviate stress urinary incontinence if pelvic floor strength is the issue. However, pelvic floor strength may not be the only reason someone has stress urinary incontinence. So instead of “Think Kegels”, “Think Pelvic Health”.
What’s Going on With your Pelvic System?
The pelvic system is a complex orchestra of muscles, including the diaphragm, deep abdominal muscles, spine stabilizing muscles and pelvic floor. Strengthening one muscle in this system won’t solve the problem if that muscle strength isn’t the cause. Each part of the pelvic system contributes to proper function, and a breakdown in the system can result in various pelvic health issues, including (but not limited to) stress incontinence.
Some factors that may lead to stress incontinence or pelvic pain include:
- weak pelvic floor muscles
- overactive pelvic floor muscles – these are ‘hypertonic’ muscles that can’t contract well because they’re always ‘on’ and can’t relax
- poor core stability
- uncoordinated contractions of the diaphragm, pelvic floor, and deep abdominals
- pelvic organ prolapse
The muscles that comprise this important core system are difficult to identify and isolate because they’re internal muscles. It’s not like flexing a bicep and immediately seeing the result in a bulked up arm. That makes it difficult to know exactly what’s causing the issue without having it assessed. For women who have stress incontinence and want to resolve the issue, doing kegels might be part of the solution, but there really isn’t a straightforward ‘one size fits all’ solution for everyone. To be sure, you can enlist the help of a pelvic health specialist or urinary gynecologist.