What Is Stress Incontinence

Stress incontinence is a condition that results from an abnormal contraction of the sympathetic nervous system without loss of urine. Stress incontinence is more commonly found in women with a history of pelvic floor dysfunction, but it can also occur in men. In general, stress urinary incontinence occurs when the muscles holding on to waste enter a spasm. This puts pressure on the urethra and creates an involuntary loss of urine during coughing, sneezing, laughing or exercise.

In short: stress urinary incontinence is when you leak urine when you cough or sneeze or laugh a lot or push hard on your abdomen while exercising or have had pelvic floor surgery.

One of the ways to treat stress incontinence is Kegel exercises. Kegels are exercises that help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, often called Kegel or pelvic floor exercises. Sometimes people think that these are only necessary for women, but they are beneficial for both men and women. Many people believe they already do Kegels, but it's essential to understand various muscles in our pelvic area. It's not always obvious which muscle you're working out at first.

In short: Kegel exercises are working out the muscles in your pelvic floor. It might not be easy to find or identify these muscles, and some people need to work with a professional to find the strengths and give you pointers on how to work out your pelvic floor.

Many people aren't sure what Kegel exercises are and how they can benefit them, so we talked with Maree Sharma, a physiotherapist at Physiofit, about what they are and why you should do them. We asked Maree how you can work out your pelvic muscles and what she means by 'Core Strength'.

Q. Can you explain what Kegel exercises are?

A. Kegel exercises are a group of exercises that have been shown to improve pelvic floor strength. However, they are not all the same, and it is essential to understand the difference between them so you know which one is best for you.

The most common form of Kegel exercise is to stop and start pushing or pulling on your pelvic floor muscles with your mind's eye, for example, 'suck in your stomach' or 'push out your buttocks. These are known as mental images, which can be done sitting down or standing up. Done correctly, these exercises aim to strengthen the muscles in your pelvic floor that help keep your bladder and bowel continence.

The second form of Kegel exercise is called biofeedback. This is done by wearing a small sensor over the pubocervical region (around the base of the spine), so you can monitor how well you are doing at any given time. The monitor then gives you feedback on how well you are doing. You will soon feel it if your muscles are not working correctly - and an increase in pressure might be judged on the sensor, for example, or you might experience some muscle weakness.

A third type is called electromyography or EMG. This involves having a sensor placed on one of your electrodes (a small plastic strip) and having the sensor connected to a machine that registers how it feels when you contract the muscles in your pelvic floor. Many people find this uncomfortable, and some simply don't do these exercises because they don't like the idea of measurements being taken on their bodies.

In short: Kegel exercises are a group of exercises that can improve strength and flexibility in your pelvic floor muscles and support pelvic floor muscle function and bladder control. Some of these exercises can be done sitting down, and some need to be done standing up. There are different techniques, and you should seek professional advice as to what ones are best for you to learn how to work your pelvic floor muscles.

Q. Can you explain 'Core Strength'?

A.' Core Strength' is a way of describing the muscles that form the large 'core' that supports our weight from the back, through our abdomen, rib cage and diaphragm to the pelvic floor muscles. These muscles need to be strong and flexible.

Core Strength: Our core is made up of the pelvic floor muscles, which support our pelvic organs and bladder, as well as several other muscles that run from the back to our hips; these are the 'visceral' (or inner-related) core muscles such as the transversus abdominis, rectus abdomen and diaphragm.

Core Strength: This means that if one or more of these muscles is tight, it may affect the strength and flexibility of the pelvic floor muscles. Kegel exercises can help target any tightness in these muscles.

Q. Why are they so important?

A. If your core is solid and flexible, it will help you achieve more muscular pelvic floor control, improve bladder control and give you better overall core strength. Some research shows that people with weak pelvic floor muscles may need an extra boost in their 'core' to achieve this balance between body weight, pelvic floor muscle strength and pelvic organ function, possibly to support their pelvis while sitting or supine (lying down).