What are Pelvic Floor Exercises?
Pelvic floor exercises involve contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. Pelvic floor exercises usually aim to strengthen pelvic floor muscles, maintain and restore pelvic floor support and control.
How to Feel Pelvic Floor Exercises
Not being able to feel your pelvic floor exercises is a commonly experienced problem and is definitely a Pelvic Exercises FAQ. There are a number of reasons for being unable to feel pelvic floor exercises including:
- Weak pelvic floor muscles
- Incorrect pelvic floor exercise technique
- Pelvic floor nerve or muscle damage (from childbirth, pelvic surgery or radiation therapy)
As your pelvic floor muscles strengthen and recover, sensation can often improve. In some cases where the pelvic nerves or muscles are damaged, sensation may not fully recover.
What do Pelvic Floor Exercises Feel Like?
Pelvic floor exercises for women feel like squeezing and inwards lifting in and around all three pelvic openings; the urethra (urine tube), vagina and rectum/anus (bowel opening). Pelvic exercises for men feel like a lift and squeeze in and around the urine tube and the anus.
These exercises also feel like:
- Stopping or slowing the flow of urine
- Stopping wind (gas) from passing by tightening the anus
Correct Technique to Strengthen Pelvic Floor Muscles
To strengthen your pelvic floor you will need to undertake a pelvic floor exercise program and do your exercises regularly.
The correct technique to do your pelvic floor exercises involves lifting and squeezing in and around all three pelvic openings at once. It also involves relaxing the pelvic floor muscles back to resting level and taking time to recover between each exercise.
Correct technique also involves:
- Breathing normally throughout
- Keeping the thighs and buttocks relaxed
- Avoiding strong abdominal muscle contraction
How Many Pelvic Floor Exercises? How often?
In days gone by women were advised to do hundreds of daily Kegels (pelvic floor exercises). We now know that this is incorrect advice and that to strengthen the pelvic floor most effectively pelvic exercises should follow current scientific knowledge relating to muscle strengthening and endurance training.
Daily pelvic exercises are usually recommended in pelvic floor strengthening programs. The number of exercises to do to strengthen your pelvic floor depends on your current pelvic floor strength and endurance. Ideally you should start with the number of repeated contractions you can do, holding each for up to 10 seconds at a time.
Recommended daily pelvic floor exercises guide to strengthening:
- Repeat up to 8-12 pelvic floor exercises in a row, 3 times a day
- Maintain each exercise for up to 10 seconds
- Perform each exercise with maximum effort
- Relax your pelvic floor muscles and recover in between every exercise
Best Position for Pelvic Floor Exercises
The best position to commence pelvic floor exercises is the position in which you can best feel your pelvic floor muscles contracting. If your pelvic floor muscles are very weak, you may find that lying down helps you to achieve a pelvic floor muscle contraction. Others find that sitting or standing upright is the best position in which to exercise.
What is important for everyone is that at some stage during their pelvic floor strengthening program, they progress their exercises to standing position. In standing, the pelvic floor muscles are required to work against gravity, and this is a more challenging position for the pelvic floor muscles compared with lying down. You will usually get the most strength and control benefits by doing your exercises standing upright.
How Long to Notice Improvements?
The time required to notice improvements will vary from one person to the next. Sometimes you will notice improvements in the first couple of weeks of commencing pelvic exercises. Sometimes it can take 4-6 weeks or more to notice pelvic floor problems improving. Studies have shown that in women with weak pelvic floor muscles, it can take 5-6 months to restore the maximum possible pelvic floor strength.
Benefits of Pelvic Floor Exercises
Pelvic floor exercises can help improve:
- Strength of pelvic floor muscles
- Prolapse symptoms and support
- Bladder and bowel control and emptying
- Recovery from pelvic surgery and pregnancy
- Recovery from prostate surgery
- Sexual sensation (women) and erectile function (men)
Where to Seek More Help?
If you have difficulty doing your pelvic floor exercises or if you find that your pelvic floor problems are not improving Pelvic Floor Physiotherapy may assist you. A consultation with a Physio can help you to do your exercises correctly and help you manage or overcome pelvic floor problems including; pelvic prolapse, prolapse surgery recovery, bladder and bowel control and emptying problems, pelvic floor muscle tension and pelvic pain.
In Australia you can make an appointment to see a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist in private practice without a referral. If you would like to see a hospital-based Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist a referral from your doctor is required. In the US and UK a doctor’s referral is usually required.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Michelle Kenway
Michelle Kenway is a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and author of Inside Out – the Essential Women’s Guide to Pelvic Support. The Inside Out exercise DVD and book show women how to exercise effectively with pelvic floor safe exercises.