Don’t Mind Me, I’m Working on My Pelvic Floor
Of all the women’s health issues, urinary incontinence might be the one that is least talked about outside of pregnancy. Pregnancy books, websites, and literature prepare us for the possibility of urine leakage. The incontinence gets chalked up to a temporary annoyance that will end when our baby is delivered. So, we do (or don’t and say we do) our Kegels and wait to quit peeing with every sneeze.
What those books don’t mention is that urinary incontinence is greatly under-diagnosed and under-reported in non-pregnant women. Embarrassment prevents women from mentioning it to their doctor. Yet a study from the University of Washington of 3,000 women found:
Urinary incontinence affects 28 percent of women ages 30 to 39, 41 percent of those 40 to 49 and almost half of all women 50 and older, according to a University of Washington survey of more than 3,000 women. And about 80 percent of these women can get complete or significant relief.
That is a lot of women suffering through the same problem silently. This is where Kegel exercises come in; you can do them any time, anywhere, silently and help end your suffering. Kegel exercises will not work for every type of incontinence but they have been found to be helpful for:
• Stress Incontinence: urine leakage from coughing, sneezing, laughing, and other movements that put pressure on the bladder.
• Urge Incontinence: losing urine for no reason or having the sudden urge to go.
• Overactive Bladder: frequent, urgent, waking in the night.
Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine, and rectum. The key is to properly identify your pelvic floor muscles (the ones used to stop your urine midstream) and to do them regularly. Here is a brief description provided by the Mayo Clinic:
• Perfect your technique. Once you’ve identified your pelvic floor muscles, empty your bladder and lie on your back. Tighten your pelvic floor muscles, hold the contraction for five seconds, and then relax for five seconds. Try it four or five times in a row. Work up to keeping the muscles contracted for 10 seconds at a time, relaxing for 10 seconds between contractions.
• Maintain your focus. For best results, focus on tightening only your pelvic floor muscles. Be careful not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs or buttocks. Avoid holding your breath. Instead, breathe freely during the exercises.
It may be tricky, at first, but once you get the technique you can do Kegel exercises and make them part of your regular routine.