How can I strengthen my bladder muscles?

Jane mugshot for JQAI have been told to exer­cise my blad­der muscles but I’ve no idea how to do this. I have been doing pel­vic floor exer­cises for years, since the birth of my son, but I’m not sure if this works the same muscles. Can you advise me?

Pelvic floor muscles are indeed the ones that con­trol your blad­der, and it is stand­ard advice to new moth­ers to get to work exer­cising those muscles as soon as pos­sible after giv­ing birth.

It’s a par­tic­u­lar source of frus­tra­tion and embar­rass­ment to most moth­ers and almost all women as we age, that we start to suf­fer from “stress” incon­tin­ence. It’s not just that you can’t con­trol your urge to wee for as long as you used to, but also that you get mini leaks just from some­thing like a sneeze, a jolt or even laugh­ing.

Pelvic floor exer­cises do help, but only if you do them rig­or­ously, and keep on doing them reg­u­larly through­out your life. While this sounds like a bur­den, once you’ve learnt the tech­nique, you can prac­tise them any time you are sit­ting still – watch­ing TV, out in the car or on the bus, in bor­ing meet­ings or at the cinema. Men should also be doing the same exer­cises as you age – blad­der weak­ness is not just a female prob­lem.

First you need to be sure you are get­ting the exer­cises right. The two main errors are:

  • Just squeez­ing your bum muscles together
  • Just pulling in your tummy

Both of these ver­sions will feel like they are work­ing in the right area, but they will not strengthen your pel­vic floor.

Try to ima­gine the muscles involved as a bit like the over­sized “nappy” worn by Sumo wrest­lers. The sling sec­tion, run­ning between your legs, needs to be sucked up hard – as though you are lit­er­ally pulling it into your body. For women this should feel like you are suck­ing up into your vagina. For men, focus on try­ing to lift your scro­tum as you pull up. In either case, no vis­ible move­ment occurs: it’s all internal.

You might also want to ima­gine try­ing to stop your­self from urin­at­ing and defec­at­ing, but the over­all effect is to strongly pull or suck up the whole of the nappy sling inside you.

To do this as a proper exer­cise, sit com­fort­ably in an upright chair, back sup­por­ted. Bundle all the bits of the ima­gin­ary sling and suck or lift it all up, at first just inside, then increas­ing the pull a bit and finally lift­ing hard until it has all reached your tummy but­ton inside. Hold for a couple of seconds, then slowly release the sling back down until you’ve reached ground level and your muscles are relaxed again. Don’t rush it and take great care to breathe through­out. Do 10 lift and lowers at a time, two or three times dur­ing the day, every day. Do not prac­tise while you are going to the loo: this can cause a urin­ary infec­tion. Click here for the full exer­cise.

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