The pelvic floor is a set of muscles that supports pelvic organs, such as the bladder and bowel. These muscles aid urinary control, continence, and sexual function.
Both men and women can experience pelvic floor weakness over time. As with other muscles, people can perform exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor, enhancing bowel and bladder control.
Pelvic floor exercises offer women many benefits, including a lower risk of vaginal prolapse, better bowel and bladder control, and improved recovery after childbirth.
They can also benefit men by speeding recovery after prostate surgery, reducing the risk of rectal prolapse, and improving bowel and bladder control.
Anyone who has recently had surgery or given birth must talk to a doctor before beginning an exercise program for the pelvic floor to ensure that they can safely begin working these muscles again
Kegel exercises focus on tightening and holding the muscles that control urine flow. This exercise is suitable for men and women.
A Kegel exercise consists of the following steps:
2. Squeeze and release
This exercise is a rapid "squeeze and release" movement that builds the ability of the pelvic floor muscles to respond quickly.
To perform this exercise, a person should:
While bridges primarily strengthen the buttocks, they also help work the pelvic floor.
People can do a bridge using these steps:
Along with the bridge, squats can promote a stronger pelvic floor and buttocks.
To perform a squat, a person should:
Not all squats target the pelvic floor. Wide-legged or deep squats may make it difficult to retain a pelvic floor contraction. When strengthening the pelvic floor, narrow and shallow squats tend to be more beneficial.
People may have difficulty targeting their pelvic floor specifically to perform the exercises. Specialized physical therapists known as pelvic floor therapists can help a person identify their pelvic floor using different feedback devices.
One example is a biofeedback device that involves placing sticky electrodes on key areas of a person's body and asking them to contract their pelvic floor muscles. The electrodes send signals to a computer that can identify when they are contracting the correct muscles.
Sometimes, a person may have nerve damage that prevents them from contracting their pelvic floor muscles on their own.
Where this is the case, a pelvic floor therapist may offer pelvic stimulation therapy, which can help produce muscle contractions.
Exercises to avoid
Some exercises may be too difficult for a person with a very weak pelvic floor. Performing the exercises may further weaken their muscles and lead to more problems with incontinence.
Until a person has done several months of pelvic floor work, they should avoid the following exercises:
One common misconception about pelvic floor exercises is that it is beneficial to try to stop urinating midstream to test pelvic floor muscle control. This is not an effective practice as it could result in incomplete emptying of the bladder.
Incomplete emptying can increase the risk of urinary tract infections (UTIs) and other urinary disorders.
A person should talk to their pelvic floor therapist, doctor, or physical therapist about whether there are any specific exercises they should avoid after surgery or childbirth.
In addition to practicing pelvic floor exercises on a daily basis, everyday activities can help strengthen the pelvic floor. These include walking, standing up straight, and sitting properly.
Both men and women can also tighten and squeeze the pelvic floor muscles each time they sneeze, cough, or lift something heavy. These activities help strengthen the pelvic floor further and prevent incontinence.
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