| Tara Langdale
Kegels are pelvic floor exercises aimed at tightening up weakened pelvic floor muscles. Lots of people are under the impression that doing kegels is a good idea, as they think it will help to improve their sex lives or prevent incontinence. However, it’s not quite as simple as that.
Pelvic floor exercises are often recommended for people with pelvic floor disorders including incontinence, prolapse, pelvic pain, painful intercourse (dyspareunia). That’s because a strong pelvic floor is sometimes a preventative measure for some of the above, but the kind of exercises you do is important. Getting it wrong could actually have the opposite effect.
When is doing kegels bad for you?
1. You might be doing kegels too often
Lots of people do kegel exercises all the time. They are so keen to tighten the pelvic floor muscles that they forget something important: no exercises should be done constantly. If you continually flexed your biceps all day you would expect them to become sore and tired, and the same goes for pelvic floor muscles.
If you are doing kegels constantly you run the risk of developing a hypertonic (overly tight) pelvic floor. This in itself is a pelvic floor dysfunction and it can result in painful sex, urinary urgency, constipation… and for some, urinary incontinence. This is the very thing a lot of people who do kegels are trying to avoid.
2. You could be doing kegels the wrong way
Lots of women are doing kegel exercises the wrong way. This means they may be using too much force, resulting in pelvic floor muscle tightness. The thing is that it is quite difficult to know if you’re doing kegels the right way in the first place. This muscle group is hard to feel and you can’t see it. Women with a weak pelvic floor are even more likely to get kegels wrong, and even with the help of a pelvic floor physical therapist it is still possible to do them wrong and cause yourself problems.
3. Kegels should not be done while urinating
Although it is alright to do kegels now and then while urinating, this should be kept to a minimum. Doing kegels while peeing more than a couple of times per month can lead to a weakened pelvic floor rather than a tightened one. You could disrupt the pathways between the bladder and brain, resulting in damage to the bladder and kidneys. You might also develop incontinence problems, hesitancy or problems emptying the bladder.
4. Kegels may be the opposite of what you need to do
It is surprisingly easy to mistake a tight pelvic floor for a weak pelvic floor. It may be that your pelvic floor is already overactive, so if you start doing kegels regularly you’re going to end up with a hypertonic pelvic floor. Although pelvic floor dysfunction can come about through childbirth, injury or muscular weakness, it’s not always the case. It is really important to understand the reason for your dysfunction before you start doing kegels, otherwise you may end up with even worse dysfunction.
When is doing kegels a good thing?
If you have been officially diagnosed with a weak pelvic floor, you will benefit from strengthening it. You should see a pelvic floor physical therapist to make sure that your pelvic floor dysfunction is actually down to weakness (hypotonicity) rather than over-activity and tightness (hypertonicity).
Most of the time, a weakened pelvic floor is still working - albeit less effectively. It may not need intensive strengthening, so doing kegels constantly is not helpful. We recommend consulting a pelvic floor physical therapist. They will be qualified to tell you what the problem is, what will work best for you and exactly how to go about it. You may find that it was actually pelvic floor stretches you needed to be doing all along!