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Patient education: Pelvic floor muscle exercises (Beyond the Basics)

Linda Brubaker, MD, FACOG
Section Editor
Robert L Barbieri, MD
Deputy Editor
Kristen Eckler, MD, FACOG
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The pelvic muscles play an important role in bladder control (the ability to hold urine and not leak). Like other muscles, they can become weakened over time, as a result of vaginal childbirth, surgery, and aging. People with bladder control problems, such as urine leakage, can improve urinary control through pelvic muscle exercises (also called Kegel exercises).

If you want to use pelvic muscle exercises, speak to your health care provider to determine if the exercises would be helpful, and also to receive instructions about how to perform the exercises correctly.


First, you will need to learn which muscles to tighten. To do this, imagine you are sitting on a marble (do not use a real marble). Then tighten your pelvic muscles to lift that imaginary marble off the chair. Tighten and relax your pelvic muscles several times. That way you will learn which muscles are the ones you should tighten. When you do the exercises, you should NOT stop the flow of your urine, because this isn't good for your urination.

After you learn which muscles to tighten, you can do the exercises in any position (sitting in a chair or lying down). You do not need to do them while you are in the bathroom.

Second, hold the pelvic muscle contraction approximately 8 to 10 seconds, and then relax the muscles; relaxing the muscles is as important as contracting. In the beginning, it may not be possible to hold the contraction for more than one second.

Perform 8 to 12 exercises three times per day. Try to do this every day, but no less than three or four times a week. Continue this regimen for at least 15 to 20 weeks.

Over time, try to hold the contraction harder and for a longer time. You will need to continue these exercises indefinitely to have a lasting effect, similar to other forms of exercise.

Some people benefit from working with a physical therapist or bladder health nurse to receive more detailed instructions and to ensure that you use the correct technique. In addition, these providers may use biofeedback to improve your exercise technique and strength. Biofeedback uses a computer monitor to show you as the muscles contract and relax, and also indicates if you use the wrong muscles.


Studies have shown that, if done correctly, pelvic muscle exercises can be effective in the following situations:

If you leak urine with coughing/laughing/sneezing. Contract your muscles when you are about to cough/laugh/sneeze to avoid leaking.

If you have a sudden urge to run to the bathroom, sit or stand still and contract your pelvic muscles. After the urge diminishes, you can then proceed to the toilet.

If you have mild fecal leakage (leakage of stool).

These exercises are less helpful for people with severe leakage with laughing/coughing/sneezing. Exercises are not helpful at all for people with other types of urinary incontinence, including overflow incontinence (when the bladder cannot empty completely and leaks when it becomes overly full). (See "Patient education: Urinary incontinence in women (Beyond the Basics)" and "Patient education: Urinary incontinence treatments for women (Beyond the Basics)".)

Most people notice an improvement after three to four months of practicing pelvic muscle exercises. If these exercises are not helpful, please speak with a healthcare provider. Other treatments are available and may be recommended.


Your healthcare provider is the best source of information for questions and concerns related to your medical problem.

This article will be updated as needed on our web site (www.uptodate.com/patients). Related topics for patients, as well as selected articles written for healthcare professionals, are also available. Some of the most relevant are listed below.

Patient level information — UpToDate offers two types of patient education materials.

The Basics — The Basics patient education pieces answer the four or five key questions a patient might have about a given condition. These articles are best for patients who want a general overview and who prefer short, easy-to-read materials.

Patient education: Pelvic muscle (Kegel) exercises (The Basics)
Patient education: Urinary incontinence (The Basics)
Patient education: Urinary incontinence in men (The Basics)
Patient education: Pelvic organ prolapse (The Basics)
Patient education: Treatments for urgency incontinence in women (The Basics)

Beyond the Basics — Beyond the Basics patient education pieces are longer, more sophisticated, and more detailed. These articles are best for patients who want in-depth information and are comfortable with some medical jargon.

Patient education: Urinary incontinence in women (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Urinary incontinence treatments for women (Beyond the Basics)

Professional level information — Professional level articles are designed to keep doctors and other health professionals up-to-date on the latest medical findings. These articles are thorough, long, and complex, and they contain multiple references to the research on which they are based. Professional level articles are best for people who are comfortable with a lot of medical terminology and who want to read the same materials their doctors are reading.

Nocturia: Clinical presentation, evaluation, and management in adults
Urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse associated with pregnancy and childbirth
Treatment of urinary incontinence in women

The following organizations also provide reliable health information.

National Library of Medicine


American Academy of Family Physicians


The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases


Pelvic Floor Disorders Research Foundation


National Association for Continence


Simon Foundation



Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Fri Mar 10 00:00:00 GMT 2017.
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