I want you to think for a moment about what you know of Kegels.
Whilst most women are familiar with the term, what do we actually know? Aside from knowing that they help tighten the vaginal muscles, not much.
It’s a common thing for women to be both informed and misinformed at the same time, and I’m here to dispel the myths you’ve learnt about Kegels once and for all.
Why exactly do we do Kegels?
A Kegal is the contraction of the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles are responsible for keeping in all your pelvic organs as well as controlling urine and poopoo as the muscle runs from the pubic bone to the tail bone in our backs.
Kegals are encouraged if your pelvic floor muscles become loose, which is most common after pregnancy, old age or constipation.
It’s estimated that 30% of women do Kegals incorrectly [i]. In order to engage the pelvic floor muscles properly it’s important to do remember the following;
- Don’t hold your breath when contracting muscles - Instead, take a deep breath in and whilst breathing out, contract the muscles
- Don’t squeeze or suck in your abdomen
- When contracting muscles, make sure you squeeze your bum too as that’s also part of your pelvic floor.
How can Kegals be bad?
As I mentioned above, Kegals are encouraged when the pelvic floor muscles become loose, which for the majority, happens later on in life.
In order to do a Kegal effectively, it’s imperative that your pelvic floor is relaxed beforehand. However, if you suffer from a hypertonic pelvic floor, this can be impossible to do, and engaging in Kegals can create more discomfort for you.
What is a hypertonic pelvic floor?
A hypertonic pelvic floor is when the pelvic muscles are constantly contracted and are unable to relax. Approximately 1 in 5 women suffer from this, and according to a study from the National Institute of Health, 25% of all women will develop a pelvic floor disorder [ii]. Having your pelvic floor muscles in a constant state of contraction puts pressure on the uterus, bladder and bowel and can lead to a variety of symptoms including;
- Weak core muscles
- Lack of upper body strength
- Painful sex
- Pain in the hip/lower back/pelvis/coccyx
- Unable to empty bladder/bowel
Having a hypertonic pelvic floor can be a symptom of a bigger issue, so if you find yourself experiencing any of the symptoms or feel something isn’t quite right,
seek a medical professional.
Doing Kegals when you have a hypertonic pelvic floor can lead to a variety of things, including muscle strain, muscle fatigue, discomfort with exercise and pain during sex. It can also lead to weakness in muscles; because the pelvic floor is never fully relaxed, this means it’s unable to contract, thus the muscles cannot be utilised properly [iii].
We spoke to Tara, who suffered for many years due to a misdiagnosis from doctors. She suffered from vaginismus and a tight pelvic floor and through physiotherapy and psychosexual therapy could she relax her pelvic muscles. You can read more about her story here. She shares her opinions on Kegals:
“People always kind of go on about how good Kegals are and how every woman should be doing them. However, you shouldn't really. If you've not had a kid and you are under 40, you are much more likely to have a hypertonic pelvic floor than a weak one. So, you have this generation of women that are being told by the media, ‘do Kegals, do Kegals’, however, they actually could be creating muscle imbalances.
“If your pelvic floor is tight, you need to learn how to relax it before you start Kegals. I don't know how many girls do this, but if they're constantly sucking in their stomachs, that can also cause tight pelvic floor muscles.”
The Pelvic rehabilitation website further explains this.
“Instead of doing the work of deep abdominal activity, many patients try to keep their stomachs flat by pulling or ‘sucking’ in their abdomens and think they are using their muscles effectively. In reality, the pulling motion creates pressure that pulls the abdomen’s contents up, not in. This presses the internal organs uncomfortably up against the diaphragm while weakening the pelvic region” [v].
So, there you have it; Kegals are not always good for you, so before you engage in anything always do your research and find out whether it’s suitable for you to engage in. All our bodies are different, so what may be good for someone else may not be the same for you.
As physiotherapist Katie Kelly says;‘Sometimes learning how to ‘un-kegal or reverse kegal is the best course of action’ [vi].