The Pelvic Floor Muscles and How to Strengthen Them
The pelvic floor muscles include the levator ani, the coccygeus and connective tissue that extend into the various organs of the pelvis. The group extends from the pubic bone to the tail bone. They are found in both men and women. Their primary function is to support the internal organs. In women, the uterus, vagina, anus and rectum are supported by the pubococcygeus or PC muscle. It is a hammock-like structure that starts out being strong and firm, but can become weak and stretched over time.
Weakening of the PC is the most common cause of stress incontinence. When urine leaks as a result of laughing, sneezing or physical activity, doctors refer to it as stress incontinence. It is a common problem among women of all ages. Pregnant women benefit from a strong PC, because it helps to ensure the proper position of the baby’s head during childbirth. It is also used during delivery to help push the baby through the birth canal. Both men and women benefit from strengthening this area for several reasons.
Kegel or pelvic floor exercises are the most effective method of strengthening the area. Dr Arnold Kegel was a famed gynecologist who was the first to suggest that exercise could be used to contract and strengthen the PC muscles, which is sometimes referred to colloquially as the “Kegel muscle”. He originally developed his exercise program in 1948 to help women that suffered from urinary incontinence following childbirth.
The exercise itself is not difficult to perform. Practically anyone can do it. The hard part is isolating or locating the correct muscle group. Invariably, physical therapists find that people are contracting the abdominals, buttocks or thighs, rather than the PC. Kegel suggested that an exerciser be used to ensure that the correct muscles were being used during pelvic floor exercises. His exerciser was shaped something like a barbell.
One end was inserted into the vagina and the woman was instructed to contract the muscles to “pull” the exerciser up. The barbell design did not work well for all women. Since the weight of the device could not be changed, it did not allow for increased resistance over time. Vaginal cones are a more recent development. They usually come in a set that includes different sizes and weights.
Women usually start with the largest cone and the lowest weight. As time goes by, they are able to hold the smaller cones and move up to the higher weights. If you learn how to exercise your pelvic floor muscles correctly, you are less likely to suffer from urinary incontinence or related health problems. Many companies provide detailed instructions to help ensure that your work will pay off.