Is there really one exercise that can prevent pelvic floor disorders?
By Emily O’Brien
Kegel exercises. Popular for potentially being advantageous for women who have difficulty reaching orgasm. They’re discreet enough to perform anywhere. But there’s more to it than that.
The simple clench-and-release exercise, named after its gynecologist inventor, Arnold Kegel, can bolster the strength of the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. According to the Mayo Clinic, various causes can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, including pregnancy, childbirth, surgery, aging and being overweight.
And according to The University of Chicago Medicine, “Pelvic floor disorders (PFD) occur when the ‘sling’ or ‘hammock’ that supports the pelvic organs becomes weak or damaged.” Urinary and/or fecal incontinence and organ prolapse are considered to be PFDs.
If it’s not the orgasm one is concerned about, but leaking a few drops of urine when sneezing, laughing or coughing, and experiencing even greater urinary or fecal incontinence, one might benefit from Kegels.
The PFD Alliance, which raises awareness of pelvic floor disorders, says, “Lifestyle changes, such as performing pelvic floor muscle exercises, like Kegels, or losing weight, can help control and strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.”
However, the problem is that Kegels have a reputation for treating all PFDs. But Kegels alone may not be the best method. Cindy Huston, 55, a mother of two who has undergone pelvic floor surgery twice, swears by other methods.
“I’m not a big fan of Kegels,” says Huston. “It doesn’t feel like something you want to do all the time.” So she took an alternative route and got certified in yoga and practices it and Pilates regularly. “Those two things changed my [overall] health and my pelvic health,” she says.
Huston recently underwent her second PFD surgery where a midurethral sling, which was used to treat stress urinary incontinence. The procedure was done by Kimberly Kenton, MD, division chief at the Integrated Pelvic Health Program at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and PFD Alliance member.
And Huston says emphatically, “I think the surgery was so successful because I strengthened my pelvic walls.”
“I see too many women who are just told to Kegel,” says Kenton. “I’m hesitant to promote Kegel [as the only solution].”
She says it’s not a one-size-fits-all remedy. Kenton uses the industry phrase, “The pelvic floor is the floor of the core,” in which core strengthening exercises including Pilates, yoga, and abdominal exercises, are known for firming. Kenton, who is a strong proponent of pelvic floor muscle training says that, “Most women should be checked to make sure they are performing them correctly.”
To make matters worse, because of her PFD, Huston found her once vibrant and healthy lifestyle slipping. Since getting her PFD under control in the last six months, she says, “It has changed the quality of my life significantly.”
“One in five women have surgery for pelvic floor disorders,” says Kenton. And that’s surgery, not just how many people experience symptoms.”
If you are consistently practicing your Kegel exercises, you might expect to see the results, such as less frequent urine leakage, within a few months. For continued benefits, make them part of your everyday routine, in addition to core strengthening exercises. If there is only minimum improvement, surgery may be the next step.
“I’ve always pushed conservative measures before surgical options,” says Kenton. “There are multiple options [for treating PFDs], and they’re probably all reasonable, depending on the right patient.”
The biggest obstacle is the fact that no one wants to talk about it. Women with PFDs are not alone, and they should not hesitate to seek treatment—of any kind—no matter what. To learn more visit http://www.breakfreefrompfds.org.