Someone in the Restorative Exercise™ community brought this to my attention today:
My first thought was “I bet I could get that sucker up to 10!” I guess my competitive spirit is alive and well. As much as I want entrepreneurs who mean well to succeed, especially when it comes to the area of women’s health, is this product a must-have?
The idea behind this product is that you insert it into your vagina and “squeeze,” thereby performing a “Kegel” and strengthening the pelvic floor muscles. We women have been told for decades that this is the key to maintaining a strong healthy pelvic floor, and protecting us from the possibilities of incontinence or Pelvic Organ Prolapse (POP) which is where the internal organs such as your bladder, rectum and uterus collapse down and sometimes even out! I posted a great blog post on that subject on my Facebook Page, so if you missed it, click here. (Don’t worry, the pictures are drawings and very helpful.)
But what exactly is a Kegel, and what is it for? Let’s look at the history for a minute. Arnold Kegel, a gynaecologist, developed the Kegel (named after him obviously) in the 1940s as a non surgical intervention for genital relaxation (Wikipedia). It is also thought that these exercises were given for a short time postpartum to help injured and stretched muscles regain their strength before the mother went home. (Historically women did not give birth lying on their backs, nor did they spend 3 days after birth lying on a hospital bed – so maybe Kegels were necessary for that reason).
But as we all know so well – sex sells. Enter the penis (sorry). If you want to intensify your orgasms and please your man with your tighter vag (I’m already envisioning the spam I’m going to get) – suddenly Kegels are to be done not only after childbirth, but all the time. All day long. Every day. On the subway, in the office. Use your new App to record the strength and duration and track your progress. (I’m curious as to the “games and other interactions” part!)
So, do Kegels work? Do they keep your organs in and fix incontinence issues? The answer is: it depends. Firstly, it is important to note the “relaxation” part of Dr. Kegel’s intentions. Simply training a muscle to contract (any muscle) is going to have the result of a tight short muscle. And here’s the thing: a tight short muscle is not a strong muscle.
Measured by the electricity it generates, a tight short muscle cannot generate force (because its fibres are too close together to contract more) and will eventually fail. So if you have a hypertonic (too much tension) Pelvic Floor (PF), you might find Kegels work in the short term, as the muscle contracts more to its shortest position, and then it will simply be too contracted all the time to sustain the forces upon it (the weight of the organs above, the pressure from bearing down, perhaps a baby) and will ultimately fail.
The lesson to be learned here is – find out first if you have a hypertonic PF and then learn to relax it. A muscle can only generate force if it is at its correct resting length, and can yield back to this length after a contraction. (There are physiotherapists who specialize in PF work – just do a search for pelvic floor specialists in your town or city.)
Second, Kegels don’t address all the PF muscles (and most people are confused about what those are anyway, and how it feels to contract them). Inserting something into your vagina and squeezing it might get at some of those muscles but simply “stopping the flow of urine” does not address the weaknesses that might be present in the entire system.
Men look a lot like this too, and they suffer from PF dysfunction and POP as well.
Third – and perhaps the most important. We are taking a small part of a large system and isolating it and treating it apart from that system and that is not a model that creates holistic health! If you have a PF dysfunction, a sneeze pee problem, more serious incontinence, POP, etc, you need to find out WHY this is happening. It is likely a more global issue that will require some retraining of multiple body parts that support the PF. For example, the position of the sacrum can effect the efficacy of the PF and the ligaments that connect to it determine the position of the internal organs to a large extent. *Kegel exercises can actually pull the sacrum into further counter nutation, shortening those muscle fibres even more!*
This is a cross section showing the sacrum on the left.
Also, the muscles that attach to the sacrum from behind (glutes) will create a counter pull on that bone, which in turn ensures the correct amount of tension on the PF. See, it’s all connected. So maybe you are a slumper when you sit and sit on your tailbone, changing its orientation over time, or maybe you don’t walk with any posterior muscles innervating and creating the environment for optimal PF operation. It can be a multiple factor kind of thing. Doing Kegels won’t innervate your glutes or get your hips to extend, get you off your chair and walking (unfortunately).
If you are determined to have hypotonic (low tone) tissues, Kegels might indeed be prescribed, but in our chair sitting, heel wearing (heels contribute hugely to PF dysfunction) culture, that is getting rarer and rarer.
I’m going to wait and see what kind of games they come up with for this new device. In the meantime my PF wants to go for a walk.