Most people learn how to hold their pee while they're toddlers, so it may be upsetting to find yourself unable to control when and where you urinate as an adult. However, more than 51% of women and over 13% of men experience adult urinary incontinence. The condition can cause several physical, psychological, and social impairments. For example, if your skin is frequently exposed to the chemicals in urine, it can break out in rashes, painful pimples, and even contract conditions, such as incontinence-associated dermatitis. The inability to control your pee and resulting health conditions can make you feel embarrassed and lower your self-esteem, impacting your social and professional interactions.
Fortunately, pelvic floor exercises can cure up to 69% of urinary incontinence. By learning how the pelvic floor is involved in incontinence, you can learn how to manage urinary incontinence by strengthening your pelvic floor.
What Is a Pelvic Floor?
The pelvis is a network of bones found below the abdomen. The bones form a bowl or basin shape that holds the intestines, bladder, rectum, anus, and reproductive organs, including the uterus and ovaries in women. The pelvic floor is a mass of muscles that stretches out like a hammock over the pelvic bones, keeps these organs in position, and controls their opening and closing.
Like other muscles in the body, the pelvic floor can weaken due to stressors, such as constipation, obesity, a dormant lifestyle, bad bathroom habits, medical conditions, surgery, childbirth, and age. A weak pelvic floor can't control the sphincter muscles responsible for opening and closing the bladder exit leading to the urethra. This makes urine randomly leak out, a condition called urinary incontinence.
What Are Pelvic Floor Exercises?
Pelvic floor muscles don't necessarily get stronger on their own over time. Pelvic floor exercises for women target and activate your pelvic muscles, strengthening and improving your control over their contraction and expansion. A strong pelvic floor is critical to managing many of your body's physical functions.
Why You Should Do Pelvic Floor Exercises
Pregnancy and Childbirth
Medical professionals usually recommended pelvic floor exercises for pregnant women and new mothers since carrying and delivering a child can wreak havoc on these muscles. When you're pregnant, your pelvic floor widens to create space for the growing fetus. The muscles also expand when women are about to give birth, opening the vaginal canal to allow the baby to pass.
During delivery, the baby's body presses against the nerves of your pelvis and vaginal walls, temporarily cutting off blood supply to your pelvic floor muscles. If you have an extended delivery, the blood supply may never be reestablished, leaving your pelvic floor muscles in the expanded position required for childbirth. Unfortunately, if you can't contract your pelvic floor muscles to control when the bladder opens and closes, you may leak urine even when you don't feel like peeing. Around 30% of women experience bladder weakness and urinary incontinence after childbirth, leaking urine when sneezing, coughing, or lifting their baby.
Doing pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy can reduce your chance of leaks after childbirth.
If you've never been pregnant or given birth, it is still possible to experience urinary incontinence. Conditions such as menstruation, perimenopause, and menopause can contribute to incontinence in women.
Progesterone is a hormone responsible for controlling the menstrual cycle. Every month, the level of progesterone in your body increases, thickening the uterus walls in preparation for a fertilized egg. This hormone also expands your pelvic walls, creating space for a growing fetus. As the pelvic floor expands, it presses against organs, such as the bladder and urethra, raising the chances of frequent urination and accidental urine leaks right before your period.
Perimenopause is a stage most women experience from their late-30s to mid-40s, whereby ovaries make less estrogen and gradually stop releasing eggs. Estrogen is a hormone that maintains the structure of the pelvic floor, so it's capable of supporting functions such as ovulation, menstruation, pregnancy, and childbirth. Less estrogen makes your pelvic floor muscles weak and stiff, making it difficult to control the bladder's opening and closing.
Menopause officially starts when you haven't experienced a period for more than 12 months. Most women enter this life stage between the ages of 45 and 55. During menopause, the body experiences a significant drop in estrogen levels, making the pelvic floor and related muscles weak and stiff. The combination of weak muscles, a loose bladder, and a sensitive urethra contribute to an uptick in urine leaks.
Pelvic floor muscles, like other bodily muscles, lose their agility with age. As a result, their ability to keep the bladder closed reduces over time, increasing the likelihood of urine leaks.
Health conditions as you age can also lead to urinary incontinence. Urinary infections, diabetes, Parkinson's disease, pelvic floor prolapse, an enlarged prostate, and dementia conditions, such as Alzheimer's, play a significant role in age-related urinary incontinence.
What Exercises Help Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor?
Multiple pelvic floor exercises target the pelvic floor muscles directly and indirectly, improving your ability to hold in pee.
However, not all exercises targeting the pelvic area will reduce urinary incontinence. For example, sit-ups can be detrimental for anyone with pelvic floor weakness since they strain the pelvic region.
Even while doing appropriate exercises, you should be cautious about overworking your muscles for quick results. Like with any exercise, it's essential to ramp up the intensity of your workouts gradually, resting between sets to not overdo it. Straining the pelvic floor muscles can work against your intentions, causing a pelvic floor prolapse, which can increase the intensity of urinary incontinence.
Kegels are the quintessential pelvic floor exercises. Most women are advised to do Kegels during and after pregnancy to control urine leaks. However, anyone can benefit from doing Kegel exercises a few times a day.
To perform this exercise:
- Sit, stand, or lie down with your knees slightly apart.
- Find your pelvic floor muscles by drawing in the muscles around your rectum and anus, as if you are trying to prevent yourself from passing gas or pooping. Do the same with the muscles around your vagina, mimicking the act of stopping pee midstream.
- Pull the muscles towards your abdomen and chest. You should feel a lift each time your pelvic floor muscles are squeezed.
- Hold the squeeze for 5 seconds, then release.
- Rest for 4 seconds.
- Repeat 10 times.
Note: Kegels aren't for everyone. If you experience leaks due to stiff pelvic floor muscles, Kegels can increase your leaks. Instead of doing Kegels, perform the exercises below to gain control over your pelvic floor.
Performing a bridge is a form of exercise that targets your back, abdomen, and pelvic muscles. Women are advised to do bridge exercises to strengthen their weakened pelvic muscles after pregnancy. Older people should also perform bridges to improve posture and reduce urine leaks.
To do a bridge:
- Lie down on your back with your knees bent perpendicular to the floor. Keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Align your feet with your hips, inhale deeply, squeeze, and draw in your stomach and pelvic muscles.
- Lift your hips off the ground until they're at the same level as your knees, chest, and shoulders. Keep your back straight while continuing to squeeze your pelvic muscles.
- Hold your hips up for up to 10 seconds. If you're a beginner, do this for less time and build up to 10 seconds as your strength increases.
- Lower your hips back down and release your pelvic floor.
- Repeat 10 times.
Jumping jacks are a common cardio exercise, so they may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of strengthening your pelvic floor. However, jumping jacks activate the nerves around your core that transport messages from the brain and spinal cord to organs located in the pelvis.
Women who have lost sensation in some nerves during childbirth and people who have experienced internal nerve damage due to health conditions and medical procedures should do jumping jacks to improve transmission between nerves. Jumping jacks make it easier to control the muscles around your vagina and anus, reducing the occurrence of different forms of incontinence.
To do a jumping jack:
- Stand upright with your legs close together.
- Squeeze and draw in your pelvic floor muscles.
- Do a quick jump, moving your legs wide apart while bringing your arms above your head.
- Quickly reverse the movement, returning to your starting position while releasing your pelvic muscles.
- Repeat 20 times.
Jumping jacks are a good cardio exercise, which means they can quickly tire you out and even cause injuries. Prepare for this exercise by wearing a good sports bra to prevent injuries to your chest and abdomen. Wear padded running shoes to reduce the impact on your knees and ankles when you jump.
If you find it hard to jump when first starting pelvic floor exercises, do a modified jumping jack by slowly extending one foot and the opposite arm while squeezing your pelvic floor muscles.
Wall squats engage the muscles around your abdomen, thighs, and buttocks, making it easier to control the movement in your pelvic floor. Performing wall squats properly is crucial to strengthening your pelvic floor muscles.
To start with this exercise:
- Stand with your back flat against a wall and your feet hip-width apart.
- Inhale, squeeze, and draw in your pelvic floor and move your lower body toward the floor as though sitting in a chair.
- Sink down until your thighs parallel the floor and your knees are at a 20-degree angle.
- Hold the position for 10 seconds.
- Raise yourself back up to a standing position and release your pelvic floor.
- Rest for 10 seconds.
- Repeat 10 times.
If you're a beginner, simplify this exercise by extending your legs in front of you while leaving your back flat against the wall. Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and hold the position for three breaths before going back to a standing position. This modification can make a wall squat easier on your hips and knees until your body is ready to sustain the standard wall squat.
How Often Should You Do Pelvic Floor Exercises?
You don't need to go to the gym or use special equipment to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles. Pelvic floor exercises, such as jumping jacks and wall squats, can be done safely in your home without the supervision of a fitness instructor. Carving out just 10 minutes to perform squats or bridges in your bedroom, living room, or porch before starting your day can do wonders for your pelvic floor muscles.
Kegel exercises are more discreet, so you can do them anywhere. Squeeze your pelvic muscles while cooking, driving, or even at the office. Setting several alarms will ensure you do your Kegels multiple times throughout the day and slowly improve your pelvic floor muscles.
Pelvic floor muscles are similar to other muscles in your body, which means the results won't be instant. Most women start to see changes in urinary incontinence after doing pelvic floor exercises for 6-12 weeks. However, you'll benefit most if you practice these exercises for 4-5 months.
Consistency and pacing are essential to successfully controlling your pelvic floor muscles. Don't overwork or strain them since this can reverse your progress. Drink plenty of water and rest to give the muscles time to recover between exercises.
As you wait for your pelvic floor exercises to take effect, Nexwear products can help you manage your urinary incontinence. Our range of pads and underwear are designed to hold urine so incontinence doesn't stop you from participating in your professional and social life.
Nexwear pads are light and discreet, sitting flat against your underwear. The pads use high absorbency technology to hold multiple ounces of liquid without letting urine or odors seep.
Choosing Nexwear underwear is an ideal solution for people who experience high volumes of urine leakage. The underwear has the same texture as regular panties, which means they're discreet and comfortable. You can wear the underwear for hours, confident that your clothes are protected from stains and odors as you go about your day.Shop Nexwear today to have your pads and underwear delivered to your doorstep.