Dysfunction of the nerves and muscles around the bladder can lead to poor bladder control, urinary leakage, and overactive bladder (OAB). With OAB, the bladder muscles contract and try to squeeze out urine, which can lead to frequent and urgent urination and, potentially, incontinence.

Kegel exercises are a type of pelvic floor training that help strengthen the muscles that support the bladder, uterus, and rectum. These types of exercises are often recommended to help people with bladder problems like OAB.

In this article, we answer some common questions about how Kegel exercises can help manage or improve symptoms of OAB.

Kegel exercises are workouts targeted to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that support the bladder and control urination, among other things.

The pelvic floor muscles can be affected by a number of causes, including pregnancy, childbirth, or injury, as well as some neurological conditions. When this happens, the signals that tell the bladder to contract and release urine may not signal properly, leading to an urgent or frequent need to urinate.

For some people with OAB, this can also cause urine leakage if the muscles that stop the flow of urine aren’t working properly. Pelvic floor exercises such as Kegels can help strengthen the muscles around and within the bladder to help avoid incontinence and improve bladder control.

Several studies have found that pelvic floor exercises can improve symptoms of urinary incontinence by reducing both the frequency of urine leaks and the volume of leakage.

Studies that have examined the use of pelvic floor exercises in women with OAB have found that this kind of muscle training can help provide meaningful improvements in OAB symptoms — including urgency, frequency, and incontinence — with or without the addition of exercise aids such as Kinesio taping or electrical stimulation.

To perform Kegel exercises, you squeeze, hold, and relax the muscles of the pelvic floor. While this may sound simple, it may take some time and practice to get the technique down correctly.

To locate your pelvic floor muscles, imagine that you’re trying to avoid passing gas, and squeeze the muscles you would use. You should feel these muscles pulling or tightening in the vaginal or rectal area.

You can also try to stop your urine midstream while urinating. This can help you locate the pelvic floor muscles, but Kegel exercises shouldn’t be done while urinating on a regular basis because that can weaken the pelvic floor muscles instead of strengthening them. It can also lead to bladder or kidney damage or infection.

If you’re not sure whether you’ve located the pelvic floor muscles, you can insert a finger into the vagina or rectum and tighten the muscles as if you’re trying to hold in urine. You should feel the muscles tighten around your finger.

Once you have located the pelvic floor muscles, you can begin practicing Kegel exercises with these steps:

  1. Make sure your bladder is empty and sit or lie down in a comfortable position, such as lying on your back with knees bent, to start. You can practice doing standing exercises once you’re sure that you’ve found the right muscles.
  2. Tighten the pelvic floor muscles. Try to hold the squeeze for 3–5 seconds.
  3. Relax the muscles and fully relax the pelvic floor.
  4. Work your way up to 10–15 repetitions per session.
  5. Repeat up to three times per day.

It’s important not to hold your breath during these exercises. Once you’ve gotten used to performing these exercises, diversify your sessions. Practice with shorter, quicker contractions or in different positions.

When doing Kegel exercises, be sure not to tighten any other muscles in the abdomen or pelvis, such as the stomach or thighs. Tightening the wrong muscles can put more pressure on the bladder and potentially make OAB symptoms worse. Breathe deeply and relax the body to prevent unwanted muscle tightening.

Overworking pelvic floor muscles can cause them to tighten, which puts pressure on the bladder. This can also lead to urinary urgency and straining when urinating or moving the bowels.

It’s important not to overdo it with Kegel exercises — otherwise, you could overtighten the pelvic muscles. Kegel exercises can be done regularly, but don’t try to do more than is recommended.

Tight pelvic muscles can also be caused by many of the same factors that cause weak pelvic muscles, such as stress or childbirth, and both can lead to frequent or urgent urination.

Working with a physical therapist, such as a pelvic floor specialist, can help you better understand the causes of your bladder symptoms. They can also help you make sure you are doing the right exercises to help strengthen your muscles without causing too much pelvic tightness.

It may take some time before you start feeling the benefits of Kegel exercises, so patience is important. It may take several weeks before OAB symptoms start to improve.

Sticking to a regular regimen of 10–15 repetitions three times a day can help build muscle strength and condition the muscle for more consistent results.

It’s uncommon for OAB symptoms to completely disappear, but Kegel exercises may help resolve many of the symptoms, such as incontinence. However, if you stop doing Kegel exercises, there’s a possibility that symptoms can start again.

It’s important to be consistent with your Kegel exercise regimen without overdoing it. Overworking the pelvic floor muscles can lead to pain or muscle tightening. This can cause more bladder symptoms as well as bowel straining or pain with sex.

A physical therapist can help you develop and stick with a plan that helps you get the most out of your Kegel exercises. This plan can keep your OAB symptoms under control without risking more damage to your pelvic floor.

If you haven’t talked to your doctor about your OAB symptoms, that’s a good place to start. They can help you identify the cause of your symptoms and whether there is anything else that can be done alongside Kegel exercises to help relieve your symptoms.

They may also be able to help you determine whether your symptoms are caused by overly tight pelvic muscles, which wouldn’t be helped by Kegel exercises.

Your primary care physician may also recommend you consult with a physical therapist who can help you develop an exercise plan that fits your unique needs or an obstetrics and gynecologist specialist (OB-GYN),

Even if you don’t have symptoms of OAB, proactive pelvic floor exercises may help prevent bladder problems from happening. If you’re at risk for pelvic floor damage — you’re pregnant, plan to become pregnant, or are anticipating pelvic surgery — your healthcare team can work with you to develop a plan to help prevent issues before they arise.

Kegel exercises are often recommended for people with OAB to help strengthen pelvic floor muscles and improve bladder control. Once you get the hang of them, these types of exercises can be done at any time and anywhere.

If you’re experiencing frequent and urgent urination or bladder leaks, a physical therapist can help you develop a pelvic floor exercise plan to help improve your symptoms and protect your pelvic health.