If you've ever worn an absorbent pantiliner or pad because you worry about accidentally leaking urine when you exercise, garden, sneeze, or cough, you're not alone. These forms of stress incontinence are common bladder control problems. They affect up to 50 percent of women at some point in their lives, according to the American Urological Association.
Your pelvic floor muscles prevent the leakage of urine and stool by supporting your pelvic organs. These muscles, located between your legs and attached to your pelvic bone, may be weakened by pregnancy, childbirth, obesity, menopause, or aging. Yet bladder control problems are not a normal part of life, at any age.
There's good news: You can make your pelvic floor muscles stronger through exercise, just as you strengthen your other muscles for good health. Exercising your pelvic floor muscles regularly helps reduce or eliminate leakage problems. If you are pregnant, or have other medical conditions, be sure to consult your health care professional before beginning these exercises.
Success depends upon two steps—finding the right muscles to work and exercising them correctly:
Find your pelvic floor muscles by:
- Trying to stop your urine flow while on the toilet.
- Squeeze the muscles you'd use to stop passing gas.
- Or lie down, put your finger in your vagina, and squeeze as if trying to stop urine. You should feel tightness on your finger.
- If you're not sure that you've found the right muscles, ask your healthcare professional.
To exercise these muscles:
- Pull the muscles in, without holding your breath. Count to three as you hold the muscles tight.
- Relax for a few seconds, then repeat. Work up to 10 to 15 repetitions per session. Each session should take about five minutes.
- Aim for three sessions per day. Do the exercises while lying down, sitting, and standing.
- Tighten only your pelvic floor muscles. Don't squeeze the muscles in your stomach, legs, buttocks or elsewhere, because that could add to your control problems.
Keep at it, even if you miss a day or two. It may take a month or more to see progress, but pelvic floor muscle training can end your worries about urinary leaks.