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The pelvic floor consists of two muscles -- the levator ani and the coccygeus -- along with the tissue that connects them. The muscles forming the pelvic floor are also referred to as the pubococcygeus -- or PC-- muscles. The pelvic floor supports the bladder and the uterus and runs along the underside of the pelvis. Women frequently develop weak pelvic floor muscles in menopause, after a hysterectomy or after giving birth. Weakness in these muscles can contribute to incontinence and may inhibit sexual pleasure. In extreme cases, pelvic floor weakness can cause pelvic organ prolapse, a dangerous condition in which the organs supported by the pelvic floor descend into the vagina. Exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor are called kegels.
Pelvic Floor Balls
Pelvic floor -- or kegel -- balls are small balls inserted into the vagina. They come in a variety of textures and may be made from glass, plastic or gel-filled silicone. Squeeze the balls using your PC muscles. The balls help you to target the correct muscles and to squeeze correctly to keep the balls in. Some kegel balls come with a string to aid in removal. To increase the difficulty of the exercise, try using a set of two balls. A variant of these balls, vaginal cones, are cone-shaped and designed to more specifically target the PC muscles. A study published in the "European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology" found that vaginal cones are effective at strengthening PC muscles to decrease incontinence.
Resistance Kegel Exerciser
Resistance-based kegel exercisers provide a more challenging exercise because they provide resistance. These duckbill-shaped exercise tools are inserted into the vagina. You can turn a screw to release the ends so that the equipment opens up inside the vagina. Then squeeze the PC muscles to tighten the ends of the kegel exerciser together. While these exercisers may be marketed as sex toys or sex improvement devices, they are also effective at improving urinary incontinence.
Electrical stimulation -- or biofeedback -- produces a mild electrical current that forces the vaginal muscles to contract. This treatment is usually used in a doctor's offices and is safe under the supervision of a doctor. Your doctor may also use the device to help you locate the PC muscles and ensure you are squeezing them properly. According to the Mayo Clinic, 70 percent of patients see an improvement with this type of therapy. You can also purchase home electrical stimulation devices. However, because these devices use an electrical current, you should consult your doctor before purchasing one.
Kegels Without Equipment
The primary purpose of kegel exercise equipment is to help you identify and properly contract your PC muscles. However, you do not need exercise equipment to perform kegels. To properly target the muscles, flex the same muscles you use to stop urinary flow. Release and contract again. If you struggle with this exercise, try stopping your urinary flow while urinating. Hold kegels for as long as you can. Ideally, you should be holding for 10 seconds, but many people find they have to work up to this.