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The Truth About Kegels: Treating SUI Bladder Leaks

September 15, 2022
Miranda Obryan

The truth About Kegals & Bladder Leaks

You may have heard of doing Kegels to improve your sex life, but did you know that these intimate exercises can help improve bowel and bladder problems too? If you’ve got bladder leaks when you cough, laugh, or sneeze, then doctor-approved Kegels may help. Let’s explore the truth about Kegels.

What are Kegels?

The term “Kegels” was coined in 1948 by Dr. Arnold Henry Kegel. He was a specialist looking for a natural remedy for urinary incontinence. Kegels are a category of exercises that are designed to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles can be identified easily by stopping the flow of urine while peeing.

A woman’s pelvic floor muscles and tissues are similar to a hammock, supporting these organs inside her pelvis from underneath:

  • Bladder
  • Bowel
  • Uterus

Pelvic floor exercises were originally developed to target this group of muscles that weaken with aging, pregnancy, and prolapse in women and to prevent and treat certain types of incontinence, including stress urinary incontinence.

To help gauge the effectiveness of Kegel exercises for the treatment of urinary incontinence, Dr. Kegel invented the perineometer, a device that measures the strength of contractions of the pelvic muscles. This device also helps trained physical therapists validate that female patients are performing the exercises correctly.

Related: Why Do I Get Bladder Leaks When I Cough and What Can I Do About it?

Bladder Exercises for Stress Urinary Incontinence

Now that you know that Kegels are just a group of pelvic exercises, let’s talk about specific exercises and programs that are often used to treat stress urinary incontinence.

Anyone can add Kegels to their daily routine to strengthen pelvic floor muscles. As with any exercise program, start out small and work your way up to longer durations and if you experience any discomfort, stop and discuss it with your doctor. Before you begin, empty your bladder.

There are two main Kegel exercises to work on from home, they include:

  1. Long Hold
  2. Short Muscle Contractions

Alternating between the long and short contraction exercises is recommended for best results.

Long-Hold Kegels

Long-hold exercises require you to tense your pelvic floor muscles constantly for several seconds, release, and then repeat. Starting out, you can go with:

  • 5 Seconds of contraction
  • 5 Seconds of rest
  • Repeat for a total of 5 repetitions

Continue this on a daily basis once per day. Once you get into a routine, you can increase to 10 seconds of contraction, 10 seconds of release, and 10 reps. After that, you can further increase your pelvic floor muscle tone by adding up to three sessions of 10 reps per day.

Short-Muscle Kegels

Short Kegels work out the same group of muscles, but the contraction period is much shorter, at one or two seconds. These are especially effective at improving bladder sphincter function. As with long-hold pelvic floor exercises, you can start small and work your way up to three sets of 10 seconds per day.

While you complete these exercises, be sure to continue breathing and avoid tensing other muscles in your body, such as your abdomen. You can add intensity to your routine by performing the exercises in different positions: sitting, standing, or lying down.

For consistency, associate these exercises with certain times of the day or write them down. For example, you may designate the first pee of the day as your time to complete your Kegels—after you’ve emptied your bladder and while you’re still on the toilet.

Related: Stop Bladder Leaks: Get Your Life Back with This Doctor-Approved Device

How Do I Know if Pelvic Floor Muscle Training is Working?

It usually takes about a month to notice an improvement once you consistently exercise your pelvic floor muscles. That means that you’ll want to commit to a solid month before deciding if it worked or not, but the recommended minimum training period is eight weeks.

If you don’t feel comfortable doing Kegel exercises on your own, struggle with consistency, or you’re still not sure you are doing it right, you’re not alone. Studies have shown that treatment is more effective when you complete these pelvic exercises in a supervised plan. Work with your doctor to find a physical therapist (called a pelvic floor therapist) who will personalize a plan to fit your unique anatomy.

Signs that the Kegels are working include:

  • Fewer bladder leaks
  • Fewer trips to the bathroom
  • Your pelvic exercises are getting easier

Beyond the Kegels

While it’s true that Kegels are effective at preventing and treating stress urinary incontinence, not every woman is able to contract the pelvic muscles correctly. Three out of ten women are unable to perform Kegel exercises properly. If this is you, other effective options are available for treating SUI. A few other natural solutions to leaky bladders include to:

  • Lose weight
  • Quit smoking
  • Retrain your bladder
  • Pessary

Pessaries can be used alongside performing Kegels or as a standalone solution. These small devices are inserted into the vagina in order to support your anatomy and keep your pelvic organs and muscles aligned to reduce leaks.

If you’d like to try a pessary for your leaky bladder, My Virtual Physician has partnered with Uresta to provide a solution to stress urinary incontinence. Book an appointment today to get your bladder back under your control.

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