Pelvic Floor Exercises for Incontinence


The pelvic floor muscles do an important job; they support the bladder, bowels and reproductive organs. 

Especially as we age, these organs can exert increasing downward pressure on our bodies. But women of any age can suffer from weak pelvic floor muscles. Some causes may include:

  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Certain surgeries (e.g. hysterectomy)
  • Repeated constipation and straining on the toilet
  • Aging / gravity

What Happens if Pelvic Floor Muscles Are Weak?

Because the pelvic floor muscles support the reproductive organs, bladder and bowels, when they are weak you may see problems arise with these organs. 

Some issues that may arise include:

  • Urinary incontinence (involuntary urine leakage or bladder control issues)
  • Fecal incontinence or uncontrollable gas
  • Pelvic organ prolapse

Urinary incontinence is an extremely common experience for women of all ages. In fact, urinary Incontinence affects 200 million people worldwide. (National Association for Incontinence). And about 1 in 3 women suffer from SUI or stress incontinence at some point in their lives (Urology Care Foundation).

What Kind of Incontinence Do Kegel Exercises Help With?

There are many benefits of doing Kegel exercises (or pelvic floor exercises). If you’re doing them specifically to address bladder control issues, it is worth understanding what kind of incontinence you have and what kind of incontinence exercises that strengthen your pelvic floor can help with.

In general, there are 5 types of incontinence, listed in order of those that affect the most people:

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Type of Incontinence

How / When it Manifests

Some Possible Causes

Treatment May Include

Stress Incontinence

Stress incontinence is urine loss during physical exertion, whether it be exercise or more physical reactions like coughing, sneezing, laughing etc.

  • Childbirth
  • Trauma from surgery (e.g. hysterectomy)
  • Weak bladder muscles
  • Weak pelvic floor muscles 
  • Menopause
  • Pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises) to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles
  • Surgery

Mixed Incontinence

A combination of stress and urge incontinence.

  • The same causes as stress and urge incontinence
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medication
  • Bladder botox injections
  • Pelvic floor exercises

Urge Incontinence

An impossible-to-ignore urge to urinate, even if you just went or felt fine just minutes before.

  • Neurological conditions like Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Overactive bladder (OAB)
  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth
  • Menopause
  • Trauma to the bladder and urethra from surgery
  • Weak bladder muscles
  • Weak pelvic floor muscles 
  • Biofeedback therapy
  • Pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises) to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles
  • Surgery

Overflow Incontinence

If the flow of urine “dribbles” or is unsteady, you may have overflow incontinence. The inability to completely empty your bladder can lead it to overflow and cause unexpected urine leaks.

  • Weak bladder muscles
  • Underactive bladder
  • Blockages in the urinary tract
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Surgery to remove blockages
  • Use of catheter

Functional Incontinence

This is when you experience urine loss, but the cause is not associated with any problems with the urinary system.

  • Neurological or psychological problems or conditions
  • Physical impairments like spinal cord injuries
  • Nursing assistance
  • Changing physical settings
  • Medications and therapies to address underlying medical condition

As you can see, pelvic floor exercises may be used to treat the 3 most common types of urinary incontinence (stress incontinence, mixed incontinence and urge incontinence). They may be used alone or in combination with other treatments.

Can Pelvic Floor Exercises or Kegel Exercises Cure Urinary Incontinence?

This is a complex question and one best posed to your healthcare provider. Even with their medical expertise and your full individual history, they may not be able to give a certain answer or guarantee outcomes.

It is certainly possible for pelvic floor exercises to be a huge difference-maker, even cure, for women experiencing urinary incontinence. But it’s also possible that you will need to combine this with other lifestyle changes and even other medical treatments.

How Do I Do Pelvic Floor Muscle Exercises?

The good news about Kegel exercises is that you don’t need to set aside workout time, or buy any special gear to do them. 

Step 1: Identify the Right Muscles

The first step is to know which muscles you’re exercising. One trick to help you locate the right muscles is to stop urinating mid-stream. The muscles you use to do this are your pelvic floor muscles. Become familiar with how these muscles feel when they contract and relax. (Important: You should not make a habit of stopping urinating in this manner, just do it once to help you understand the muscles that come into play).

Step 2: Breathe and Repeat

Once you have identified the right muscles, you can focus on your routine. 

  • Inhale through your nose. When you inhale, your pelvic floor will naturally relax.
  • Now, contract your pelvic floor muscles as you start to exhale slowly.
  • Hold the contraction for 3-6 seconds. You might feel the muscles start to tire.
  • Relax for the same (or more) time you held your contraction. It’s important to relax between contractions.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Step 3: Build Up Your Frequency

Over time, you’ll want to do one set of 10 Kegels, two or three times a day. Space out the timing so you give yourself a chance to recover and don’t rush the exercises, especially at the beginning. For continued benefits, make your Kegel exercises a permanent part of your daily routine.

If you’re still not sure you’ve located the correct muscles, don’t be embarrassed to ask your doctor for help. They may use vaginal weighted cones or biofeedback to help.

How Long Does it Take to Strengthen the Pelvic Floor Muscles?

Like any exercise, don’t expect an overnight transformation when you start pelvic floor muscle exercises. If you stick to the routine and do your pelvic floor muscle exercises daily, 15 weeks is a good average time for you to expect to see results. Of course, for some people it can take less or more time

Other Things You Can Do to Help Control Urinary Incontinence

While you and your doctor work together to explore options for whichever kind of incontinence you experience, there are some options you can explore to help manage your incontinence. 

Many people find success with timing their bathroom breaks so that they follow a schedule may help avoid leaking urine, and thereby managing incontinence. Over time, you may be able to increase the time between bathroom breaks.

To help avoid the embarrassment of urine leakages, try leakproof underwear. Knix Leakproof Underwear can hold up to 8 teaspoons of liquid, whether it’s pee, period blood or sweat. They’re machine-washable and come in a variety of styles and colors, from thongs, bikini, boyshort and high rise. Basically, they feel just like regular underwear.