I 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.