The pelvic floor refers to the portion of the body at the bottom of the torso between the legs. The muscles that make up the pelvic floor stretch from the pubic bone in the front to the tail bone (bottom of the spine) in the back. They form a sling-like support for the organs located in the pelvis - the uterus, bladder, and bowel for women; and the bladder and bowel for men.
Weak pelvic floor muscles can cause the organs it supports to fall from their usual position (known as pelvic organ prolapse) and can lead to a variety of symptoms including urinary incontinence. Weakening of these muscles can be the result of pregnancy and childbirth in women, prostate surgery in men, and aging in both sexes.
Strength training the pelvic floor muscles through a technique commonly referred to as Kegel exercises has been shown to be a therapy that can help manage and in some instances prevent urinary incontinence for both men and women. If you have urinary incontinence, visit your doctor, who may prescribe that you do Kegel exercises as part of your therapy. You can also try these exercises on your own while waiting to see your doctor - it's as easy as 1, 2, 3!
Find the right muscles: To make sure you know how to contract your pelvic floor muscles, try to halt or slow the flow of urine while you're going to the bathroom. Success means you've identified the pelvic muscles to train and you've actually just done a Kegel! But do not continue practicing your Kegel exercises on a full bladder as it can cause harm.
Another technique for identifying the pelvic floor muscles specifically for women is to insert a finger inside the vagina and try to squeeze the surrounding muscles. You will feel a sensation of the vagina tightening and the pelvic floor moving upwards then moving down once you relax. This means you've identified the right muscles and have done a Kegel exercise. A similar technique can be used in men by inserting a finger (using lubrication) into the anus. If you are able to grip your finger, this means that you have found the right muscles.
Start your pelvic floor training: After you have identified your pelvic floor muscles, empty your bladder and get comfortable. Contract your pelvic floor muscles and hold it for 3 seconds before relaxing for another 3 seconds. Check to make sure you're not holding your breath. You have to remember to breathe! Repeat this "squeeze, hold, release" process 10 times at each session and do 3 sessions a day. Over time, the 3-second muscle contractions exercise will become easy and you can start lengthening them to 4 seconds at a time, alternating between muscle contractions and a 4-second rest period. The goal is to work up to 10 to 15 seconds of constant muscle contractions with 10 to 15 seconds of rest in between.
Beginning to see results: It may take several weeks of regular Kegel exercise before you experience noticeable improvement in pelvic muscle strength and urinary control. The improvement in urinary incontinence control may be dramatic or modest depending on what is causing your incontinence. Since no one can see you practicing, you can do your Kegels while standing in line at the bank, shopping, or watching TV. Keep the Kegel exercises as part of your lifelong physical fitness regimen for continued benefits, as the pelvic floor muscles, like all others, can weaken without training.
When suffering from urinary incontinence either while you are waiting to see your doctor or waiting for your therapy to work, using absorbent products can help bring a level of comfort and control from accidental leakage.