The Complicated Relationship between Kegels and Pelvic Rehab

For more than sixty years, Kegel exercises have been a common, albeit rudimentary, form of treatment to strengthen the pelvic floor.  These exercises have become so omnipresent that the pelvic floor is commonly known colloquially as the “Kegel muscle.”  Perhaps best known by the public for their ties to increased sexual function, Kegel exercises are often inappropriately considered the hallmark of pelvic floor wellness.

In a recent Chronogram article, titled “Could Your Pelvic Floor Use a Renovation?”  Wendy Kagan describes the significance of Kegel exercises: “Today they’re a first-line defense against genital prolapse and urinary stress incontinence (i.e., leakage that occurs with jarring movements like coughing, jumping, or lifting). Dreaded by some, championed by others, Kegels are the pelvic equivalent of flossing—something most women know they should do, yet often guiltily do not do.”

The biggest problem with this article is that Kegels are not the “first line of defense”.  Nor are they, necessarily, the best practice for everyone’s daily regimen.  Prescribing pelvic floor strengthening without properly assessing the pelvic floor can be harmful for patients.

Kegels have become more popular in the public sphere.  Popular exercise programs such as Yoga and Pilates often include Kegel exercises as part of their routines.  Some have over-expressed the sexual benefits of Kegels.  One hardly can open a Cosmo without finding an article on Kegel exercises for enhanced performance and pleasure during sexual activity.  Furthermore, for men, Kegels have been prescribed as solutions for everything from erectile dysfunction to premature ejaculation.  As popularity and awareness has grown, many have taken to performing Kegel exercises without speaking to a professional, which is never a good plan for benefiting one’s health.

However, the popularity of Kegels brings with it a public recognition that pelvic floor health is imperative and deserves to be cared for actively.  Though not quite the silver bullet that Kagan’s article suggests, when properly recommended by a PT, Kegels, can be an important tool in treating patients. .  As we examined in a past Pelvic Rehab Report: “Pelvic Floor Muslces: To Strengthen or Not to Strengthen?”, doing Kegels correctly is more than just tightening the muscles: “If a patient presents with pelvic muscle tension, shortening of the muscle, and poor ability to generate a contraction, a relaxation phase, or a bearing down of the pelvic muscles, how in the world will trying to tighten those overactive muscles bring progress?”

Herman & Wallace recently began developing a product to help therapists educate and treat patients on how to properly execute Kegel exercises.  Check out “All About Kegels” to learn breathing techniques and exercises to help patients effectively build pelvic floor strength.

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