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Kegel Exercises for Women: More Than Just for Incontinence?

Published | 6 min read

Kegel exercises for women help improve pelvic muscle floor health to prevent urinary and faecal incontinence and even enhance sexual health.

Woman exercising on medicine ball

The mention of Kegel exercises for women may get some giggling awkwardly, as these exercises involve the muscles “down there”. But as a woman continues to mature into her reproductive years and beyond, pelvic floor muscle health is integral to her overall well-being. For one, urinary incontinence, a result of weak pelvic floor muscles, inflicts almost 22% of women worldwide. Among pregnant women, the number can be as high as 54%. So, giggling aside, doing your Kegels could be the difference between needing diapers and maintaining a high-quality life later in your mature years.

The Relationship Between Pelvic Floor Muscle and Women’s Health

Although Kegels can also work for men, they are known to be especially important for women. This is because of the intricate nature of the machinery of women’s reproductive and lower urinary system. One of the biggest risks of not maintaining pelvic floor health is pelvic organ prolapse where the uterus, bladder, and bowel sag down towards the vagina.

Your muscles weaken with age. In addition, pregnancy and vaginal childbirth put tremendous strain on this part of the body, straining and exhausting the muscles. Being overweight is also a risk factor. Other causes include surgery such as a C-section, genetics, certain high-impact exercises (such as jumping, running, heavy weightlifting), natural aging process (loss of estrogen weakens pelvic floor muscles) and even having too many bouts of laughing, coughing, or sneezing heavily.

While incontinence is the main physical ailment that comes with this condition, having strong pelvic floor muscles can also mean a healthier and more vibrant sex life. Many of the same muscles targeted by Kegel exercises are also involved when you orgasm. Moreover, not only do the exercises target these muscles, Kegel exercises for women also improve mobility around joints in areas involving multiple joint groups. It also improves musculoskeletal health and helps prevent conditions such as osteoporosis that disproportionately affect women.

Kegel Exercises for Women: Western and Eastern Perspectives

Sporty woman performing a bridge position on blue mat.
In addition to Kegel exercises, moves like glute bridges can also help maintain healthy pelvic floor muscles.

Named after the American gynaecologist who first defined pelvic floor muscle exercise, Kegel exercises all share the lift-hold-release set of voluntary muscle work. To properly engage in Kegel exercise, take note of the following steps that detail the philosophy behind doing these exercises:

1. Identify your pelvic floor muscles

One way that’s often used to locate the muscles is by noticing which muscles you engage to stop urinating mid-steam. Some women may have issues locating and feeling these muscles. There are specialist doctors that can work with you using biofeedback technology that can essentially “teach” you to correctly engage the muscles. You should also know that Kegels are not for everyone. For those with an overactive or already tight pelvic floor muscle, doing Kegels may cause further tightening of the muscles that becomes unhealthy. Work with a professional to determine the state of your pelvic floor muscles.

2. Lift, hold, release

Focus on slowly practicing lifting, holding or squeezing, then releasing the pelvic floor muscles. This is essentially what Kegel exercises are. On your first day, you may want to start with a shorter duration of lifting then holding for five seconds, and then releasing and resting for about five seconds. Repeat and do just five repetitions of these. Over time, your goal is to have a couple of sessions of ten full repetitions per day.

3. Try other similar exercises

“Exercises that target the pelvic floor muscles and have a clench-and-release work the same way as Kegel exercises, “says Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician Lim Sock Ling. “These include holding your urine as the simplest example. Do note that it is not advisable to do so as incomplete emptying of your bladder can lead to urinary tract infection. Yoga and pilates often work the pelvic floor muscles with similar effect as Kegel exercises. Sidestep, child’s pose and clamshell exercises go through a hip abduction motion like a Kegel exercise,” she elaborates.

4. Don’t forget to breathe

“When doing Kegels, practice deep breathing. Pull your diaphragm muscles inward and let the pelvic floor muscles “drop away” from the body. This helps to relax the mind and promote qi (life force) circulation. With smooth qi circulation, the blood flow is regulated, hence reducing stagnation, and improving symptoms such as pain, menstruation discomforts, and helping to lift mood”, physician Lim further shares.

“When ready and calm, lie on your back, legs out straight, and try to smoothly draw your lower belly muscles in for a count of five, then slowly release. Repeat ten times. This helps to promote intestinal movements and digestion as the action also awakens the organs within,” she suggests.

How Acupuncture Can Enhance the Benefits of Kegel Exercises for Women

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) growing natural in nature outside
Astragalus or milkvetch root is a key ingredient in TCM herbal formulations that can supplement a pelvic floor muscle exerciser regiment.

Physician Lim also shares that there is association between the muscles and the Spleen from a TCM point of view. A healthy relationship between the Spleen organ system and our muscles bolsters a well-functioning digestive system that ensures nutrients are absorbed properly.

“Acupuncture and herbs can help to strengthen and lift qi to enhance the benefits of Kegel exercises. They aim to strengthen the pelvic floor and hold the womb and internal organs in place. This also improves urinary incontinence, reduces the occurrence of accidental urine leakage when sneezing and helps a person feel more energised in general,” she explains further.

In a study conducted by Medicine (Baltimore) medical journal, patients with first postpartum female pelvic floor dysfunction received acupuncture treatment. They showed a decrease in the bladder neck descent, anal levator muscle area and anal levator muscle hole diameter. In addition to acupuncture, moxibustion can warm the meridians to aid in the effect of uplifting the patient under treatment.

The acupoints that can be used to enhance the benefits of Kegel exercises for women are: 

  • Qi hai (CV6, 气海) 
  • Guan yuan (CV4, 关元) 
  • Zhong ji (CV3, 中极) 
  • Shui dao (ST28, 水道) 
  • San yin jiao (SP6, 三阴交)
  • Shen shu (UB23, 肾俞) 
  • Ci liao (BL32, 次髎) 
  • Pang guang shu (BL28, 膀胱腧) 

“However, please note that acupuncture for this purpose is not allowed for pregnant women. Most of the acupoints are either on the abdomen or lower back, which are contraindicated for pregnant women. In addition, a person who feels weak should not undergo acupuncture treatment. They should strengthen their body constitution via herbal medication first,” physician Lim alerts. 

TCM Herbal Formulations and Kegel Exercises for Women

TCM herbs can also be a great complement to Kegel exercises to enhance their benefits. In a two-year Study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information of 186 subjects with postpartum pelvic floor dysfunction, the addition of Bu zhong yi qi (补中益气汤) to a treatment regimen of Kegel exercises significantly improved the quality of sexual life for these women.

Other herbs that help with strengthening the body include health supplements such as essence of chicken with American ginseng, cordyceps and huai shan. “Please note that people with hypertension should be cautious when consuming herbs with uplifting effect such Bu zhong yi qi soup, which can cause a rise in blood pressure,” physician Lim once again cautions.

Kegel exercises for women are important not just to prevent and address incontinence, but also to ensure a healthy sexual life while preventing painful conditions that can come with old age. Go ahead, start on your Kegels today!

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CPSep 27 2023

The fact that acupuncture can contribute to incontinence

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