Could Kegels Actually Hurt Me?

Could Kegels Actually Hurt Me?

You’ve seen the claims. A stronger pelvic floor! Fewer Leaks! Better Sex! The kegel craze is hot right now and for good reason. Kegels can do all of these things and we’re a big proponent of doing them for maintaining good bladder health and a healthy pelvic floor. But before you jump on the kegel bandwagon, read this post. Because while kegels can be super effective for all the reasons listed above, they can sometimes cause problems in women who have certain conditions.

Many women suffer from a weakened pelvic floor, the series of muscles and tissues that form a hammock at the bottom of your pelvis, and are responsible for holding many of your organs (including your bladder) in place. A weakened pelvic floor can be caused by many factors, but pregnancy, childbirth, and aging are all high on the list.  This laxity in the pelvic floor can lead to things like incontinence, or even pelvic organ prolapse if not treated properly.  And a great way to treat it (most of the time) is with kegels.   

But not everyone has a weak pelvic floor – some women experience pelvic floor tension, which prevents the pelvic floor muscles from contracting or relaxing at a normal rate, again making them weak, but in a different way.  This can lead to things like constipation, painful intercourse, or the inability to empty your bladder completely.  

People with pelvic floor tension are advised NOT to do kegels, and if you think about it, it makes sense. Trying to tighten something that is already too tight can make your problems worse.

So, how do you know if you should be doing kegels or not?  Our best advice is to see a physical therapist specialized in women’s health.  A trained PT can give you a thorough evaluation and can determine if you have a pelvic floor that’s too tight or too loose.

An added bonus is that if your PT finds you’re a good candidate for kegels, they’ll be able to show you exactly how to do one – something that is actually somewhat difficult for many women.  And, if you’re advised NOT to do a kegel, they’ll be able to help you learn how to relax your pelvic floor and will show you exercises to help with that as well.

It’s also worth noting that while kegels are great for many people, they also aren’t the end all be all move for your pelvic floor. Your muscles are all connected, after all, so concentrating just on kegels won’t be as effective as if you worked your entire core, glutes and thighs. 

Want to find a PT in your area? Try our Specialist Locator

Can Incontinence Be Prevented?

Can Incontinence Be Prevented?

We often talk about incontinence as if it has already happened. In most cases, if you’re visiting this website, it probably has. But there are many things that you can do that can prevent incontinence from starting in the first place. Most of these things may also help you manage, or even eliminate symptoms of incontinence once you’ve already gotten it. Read below for some tips to stop incontinence in its tracks.

5 Tips To Prevent Incontinence

Tip #1: Maintain A Healthy Weight

Carrying around extra weight puts a lot of strain on the pelvic floor, causing the muscles to weaken and lead to leaks. In addition, folks who are overweight generally put extra pressure on their bladder, which can lead to leakage. Maintain a healthy weight by following a healthy diet and making exercise a part of your daily routine. Bonus: incorporating exercise into your day can strengthen your core and pelvic floor muscles, leading to even greater protection from leaks.

Tip #2: Don’t Smoke

Smoking on its own is an ugly habit and harmful to your health in more ways than one. People who smoke can eventually develop a chronic “smokers cough”. This chronic coughing can put a lot of strain on the pelvic floor, causing it to weaken and lead to incontinence. Smoking also irritates the bladder, causing you to need more frequent trips to the bathroom. And, smoking can lead to bladder cancer. Need help kicking the habit? Read these tips.  

Tip #3: Keep Your Pelvic Floor In Shape

The pelvic floor is a basket of muscles that supports the bladder, rectum and the uterus in women, and the bladder, rectum and prostate in men.  These muscles are essential in maintaining control over your bladder and bowel. Keeping the pelvic floor healthy can go a long way in preventing or treating incontinence.  Learn more about the pelvic floor and how you can protect it here. 

Tip #4: See A PT After Childbirth

We just talked about how important the pelvic floor is in maintaining continence. But certain things, like childbirth, can really wreak havoc on the pelvic floor and cause it to weaken. Many women don’t understand the impact that a weakened pelvic floor can have on them, even long after the baby is born.  Seeing a physical therapist specially trained in women’s health soon after childbirth can be very helpful, as they can ensure that you are healing properly and learning how to correctly (and safely) get your pelvic floor back into shape.  If left untreated, a weakened pelvic floor can lead to things like incontinence and even pelvic organ prolapse later in life, so this simple step can go a long way in protecting yourself for the future.  Learn more about how a physical therapist can help you here.

Tip #5: Watch Your Diet

This may seem to echo Tip #1, but even if you are at an ideal weight, if you’re eating foods that irritate your bladder (and if you’re susceptible to incontinence) then you may be setting yourself up for leaks.  There are many common bladder irritants (see a list of some of them here) but they can vary from person to person: what irritates one person may not bother another. If you do experience leaks, pay close attention to your diet and take note of foods that may be triggering leaks.

The Mama Body: Physical Therapy During And After Pregnancy

Physical Therapy During And After Pregnancy

A Guest Blog by Lizanne Pastore PT, MA, COMT

Eighty percent of the bodily changes occurring during pregnancy happen in the first trimester!  Isn’t that astounding?  A woman’s body must adjust quickly to a 40% increase in fluid volume, increased heart and respiratory rates and myriad other changes that may affect us in different ways.  The fluid volume increase, for example, can make our connective tissues weaker—our tendons can get a little mushy and our nerves and blood vessels a bit softer.  This extra fluid and tissue weakening makes us more prone to things like leg swelling, varicosities, tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, or sciatica.  

The hormonal changes in pregnancy play a big role in our metabolism, mood, memory and, of course, ligamentous laxity.  Some pregnant women experience instability not only in the pelvis and hips, but also in the joints of the spine, elbows, and wrists.  Our musculoskeletal system is taxed by these changes even before the baby gets very big.  Then, as baby grows, we might begin seeing rectus abdominis separation (“diastasis recti,”) spinal problems from posture and center of gravity changes, even rib dysfunction as the ribs are forced out and up to make room for belly.  Foot pain from falling arches from the sudden weight gain can occur, and on and on. 

In the pelvic girdle, there is a list of other maladies that can be downright scary to a pregnant or postpartum mama.  And most women are not warned about these potential problems.   Pelvic girdle pain manifesting as coccyx, pubic or sacroiliac joint pain; groin or hip pain; pelvic muscle or nerve pain; plus urinary or fecal incontinence or pelvic organ prolapse are some of the more common things occurring during or after pregnancy. 

After birth, as Mom is busy caring for her newborn and any other children at home—schlepping heavy car seats, strollers, laundry baskets, breastfeeding through the day and night, lifting ever-heavier babies into and out of cribs—she wonders why everything hurts, or why she feels a clicking in her pelvic bones when she lifts her leg!  Well, she is busy performing exceedingly challenging tasks with a sub-optimal musculo-skeletal-neural system (not to mention sleep deprivation!) 

It is well documented that both pregnancy and vaginal birth increases a woman’s risk of developing pelvic organ prolapse or becoming incontinent later in life.  And many women think that leaking during or after birth is “normal” because their friends, moms, aunts, and sisters leaked, plus there are 20 different brands of incontinence pads to choose from in the drugstore, so it “must” be normal.   

But this is wrong; leaking and pelvic organ prolapse is common, but not normal or OK.   The same holds true for back or pelvic pain.  Sure pregnancy puts demands on our bodies, but there is no reason to “put up” with pain, leaking, prolapse, numb hands or legs!  There is a health professional who knows all about this—a physical therapist specially trained in women’s health issues and the pelvic floor.  These PT’s are special – they understand the pregnant and postpartum body and are experts in negotiating a path to health and strength for women with special concerns.

After an initial assessment, which often includes a thorough pelvic muscle exam and possibly even a biofeedback analysis, the woman is prescribed a home program.  This program may include a combination of postural or corrective exercises, motor training or strengthening exercises, bladder and bowel re-training, special instruction to change movement strategies to limit stressors on the body, and even self-care techniques for pain or prolapse, such as self massage for constipation, or gentle inversions for prolapse. 

Wouldn’t it be amazing if every pregnant woman and new mama could have a visit with a PT like this?  Guess what – they can!  If you are reading this article and are pregnant talk about this option with your doctor.  And if you have friends, sisters, aunts and co-workers who might be pregnant or new moms, talk to them about it.  Tell them to ask their doctors for a referral to woman’s health physical therapist!  

Need help finding a qualified PT? Visit the NAFC Specialist Locator to find one in your area.

About the author:  A physical therapist for 29 years, Lizanne has specialized in treating women and men with complex pelvic floor and pelvic girdle issues since 2005.  She has worked primarily in San Francisco and the Bay Area, running a successful private practice for the past 18 years. She writes, lectures, and teaches about pelvic health at the professional and community levels and is currently a board member of the NAFC.  

Gender Neutral Pelvic Floor Tips

Gender Neutral Pelvic Floor Tips

Simply stated - the pelvic floor isn’t just a female thing - it is a muscular sling supporting the pelvic and abdominal organs of men and women.  The pelvic floor helps keep us dry.  More than 50 percent of men over the age of 60 experience bladder control issues due to an enlarged prostate.  

Before I share my best pelvic floor tips for both sexes, we need to agree on the following three truths: strengthening a weak pelvic floor may improve bladder control and confidence, utilizing my tips in conjunction with seeing your healthcare provider will create the most optimal effect, and it’s important to allow yourself to have a bad day here and there.  

Here are my best pelvic floor tips.

Start a Bladder or Bowel Diary

For a week, keep track of your trips to the bathroom, your leaks and how much and what you are drinking. Note any trends with fluid intake, time of day and activity level in relation to using the bathroom and your leaks. Your documentation may help your health care provider order tests, make a more accurate diagnosis or prompt a referral to a specialist.But, please consider what you can do with the information. Are there any trends you are seeing? Do you have more problems in the morning, afternoon or evening? Do you need to space out your fluid intake?  ou may be able to cue into changes that may positively impact your bladder control and confidence.  

Drink more water and consider cutting down on alcohol and caffeine

Many newly incontinent persons incorrectly assume if there is less water in the system there will be less water to pass. Cutting out water, or significantly decreasing water consumption, while continuing to consume alcohol and caffeine at normal previous levels may aggravate the bladder and make the leakage problems worse.  Hydration with plain, old water is one of the keys to improved bladder function.  And, revisit your diary – it may be possible that alcohol or caffeine may be a trigger to your leakage pattern.  Do you need notice you have more problems with bladder control after a glass or two of coffee or your favorite cocktail?  

Kegels

Yes – we need to talk about this.  Men can do Kegels and should do Kegels to improve bladder control.  Kegels are not just meant for women.  Repetitively performing Kegels will improve pelvic floor muscle function, strength and endurance.  Kegels should be a habit like brushing your teeth. The truth of the matter is - if your pelvic floor muscles are in better space they will be better able to support you and keep you dry.  Here are some cues that may help you or your loved one perform a Kegel.   

 Return to the idea that pelvic floor is a muscular sling.  It supports your abdominal and pelvic organs kind of like a hammock running along the base of pelvis – front to back and side to side.

  • Gently pull the pelvic floor up and in towards your navel as if trying to protect yourself from a blow to the belly. When you do this – you may feel a gentle tightening of the muscles underneath your navel. Your tailbone may gently rises up and in. Continue your normal breath. Keep in mind, the Kegel, I am recommending is not 100% effort but a gentle tightening of the muscular sling.

  • Continue breathing and hold the Kegel for a few seconds. Then gradually relax. Repeat until you’re fatigued or have completed your goal.

That concludes my list of my best pelvic floor tips. What are your best practices?

About the Author, Michelle Herbst: I am a wife and mother with a passion of helping women live to their fullest potential. I am a women’s health physical therapist and for nearly decade have helped women with musculoskeletal conditions during their pregnancies, postpartum period and into their golden years.

About the Author, Michelle Herbst: I am a wife and mother with a passion of helping women live to their fullest potential. I am a women’s health physical therapist and for nearly decade have helped women with musculoskeletal conditions during their pregnancies, postpartum period and into their golden years.