What is a Kegel? Are they right for you?

Your pelvic floor muscles act as a hammock at the bottom of your pelvis that supports all your abdominal and pelvic organs. Strengthening these muscles can help with problems such as urinary leakage, fecal leakage, prolapse, general weakness, pressure, pain, post-partum pain, or instability. Many physicians or therapists, friends or family members may recommend Kegels as an intervention to address your symptoms, but what are Kegels and are they right for you?

First, let’s define a Kegel. A Kegel is an isolated contraction of the pelvic floor muscles. This means that those pelvic floor muscles are the only muscles contracting in your body (lifting up towards your head and squeezing around). No other muscles come to aid in this isolated contraction. It should be a “secret” squeeze; in other words, no one else would know you are flexing them.

But when you reach for your grocery bag, move that heavy couch, lift the baby, have a bowel movement, or even sneeze – the pelvic floor doesn’t work alone. Yes, you do need to be able to isolate these muscles to help build their strength, but it needs to work together with the inner core. This allows you to anticipate movement, respond, and create a support system for stability to decrease the strain or workload to one individual group of muscles. All the muscles of the inner core need to be balanced in strength to appropriately perform actions such as these.

Kegels do have their place in Pelvic Floor therapies, however every patient is different and not everyone should do Kegels. For example, sometimes the pelvic floor is tense or in spasm, meaning the muscles are already engaged or in a contracted position. Another type of intervention or home program may be more appropriate in this case. If tension is the source of the symptoms being experienced, those muscles likely need to be lengthened and taught to relax instead. This is why it is critical to be evaluated by someone who is specifically trained in pelvic floor therapies. Knowledge of how your pelvic floor presentation relates to your symptoms and the ability to assess what the rest of the system is doing are crucial.

If you’ve tried Kegels and they haven’t helped, please contact us. There might be modifications we can make, different muscles to address, or an altogether new therapy tactic to try. Call 563.584.4465 to schedule an appointment or ask your doctor for a referral to pelvic floor physical therapy. You can also fill out our intake form here and someone from our office will reach out to you.

Gosse_B_2017_ultiproBrittany Gosse, DPT
Department of Physical Therapy
Medical Associates Clinic

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