Andrew Siegel MD 6/25/16
(photo above: Dr. Arnold Kegel, Gladser Studio, 1953)
*Note: Much of this entry is excerpted from The Kegel Fix: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health (Author: Andrew Siegel, Rogue Wave Press, 2016)
Dr. Arnold Kegel (1894-1981) was a gynecologist who taught at the University of Southern California School of Medicine. In the late 1940s he was singularly responsible for popularizing pelvic floor muscle exercises in an effort to improve pelvic, sexual and urinary health in women following childbirth.
It is a real measure of one’s significant impact on humanity to have a verb and noun derived from your name. I can think of only two physicians who fall into this category, Dr. Arnold Kegel and Dr. Henry Heimlich.
Kegel exercises: pelvic floor muscle exercises
Kegel: when one contracts the pelvic floor muscles
Heimlich maneuver: a means of dislodging a foreign object lodged in the upper airway using your fist to apply pressure to the upper abdomen
Heimlich: when one performs the Heimlich maneuver
Dr. Arnold Kegel capitalized on the principle of functional restoration of an isolated group of muscles—already well established in orthopedics, plastic surgery and physical medicine and rehabilitation—applying it to the pelvic floor muscles. His legacy is the pelvic floor exercises that bear his name, known as “Kegel exercises.” He invented a device called the perineometer that was placed in the vagina to create resistance and to measure the strength of pelvic floor muscle contractions, providing biofeedback.
(Image above: Dr. Kegel’s perineometer, from Progressive Resistance Exercise in the Functional Restorati0n of the Perineal Muscles, Am J. Obst. Gyn., August 1948 56 (2) 238-248)
Kegel described pelvic exercises as an effort to “draw in” the perineum, the anatomical region between the vagina and anus. His goal was for “broader, thicker and firmer” pelvic muscles and a tighter muscular plane through which the urethra, vagina and rectum pass.
Kegel did not invent pelvic floor exercises, but was responsible for popularizing them in women. Pelvic floor exercises had actually been around for thousands of years before his era. Kegel came onto the scene in the 1940s and made the link between childbirth and pelvic floor issues resulting in loss of vaginal tone, pelvic organ prolapse, impaired sexual function and stress urinary incontinence.
Kegel observed that in women before childbirth the vaginal canal was typically tight, firm and closed to a high level, offering resistance to the examining finger in every direction. Oftentimes after delivery the vaginal canal became looser and flabbier, offering little resistance to the examining finger. Kegel questioned his patients about their sexual function after childbirth, concluding that sex felt different after delivery and that sexuality was closely related to vaginal muscle tone and was capable of being improved with proper exercises. Additionally, Kegel observed that about one in three new mothers suffered with stress urinary incontinence.
Factoid: In one of Kegel’s classic articles, he referred to a tribe of natives in Africa whose pelvic anatomy was observed to be unusually firm and intact. This was thought to be due to exercises of the vaginal muscles contracted upon the distended fingers of midwives starting several days after birth.
According to Kegel, the reasons for pursuing pelvic exercises were the following: vaginal looseness; weakened, poorly toned or poorly functional pelvic muscles; pelvic organ bulging and prolapse; stress urinary incontinence; impaired sexual function; and “pelvic fatigue.” He discovered that with his regimen a vagina initially admitting three fingers could be tightened to a snug, well-closed vagina admitting only one finger, with the results sustained over time.
Factoid: One of Kegel’s aims was to improve vaginal muscle tone so that a contraceptive diaphragm could be held in place without falling out.
Kegel wrote: “Muscles that have lost tone, texture and function can be restored to use by active exercise against progressive resistance since muscles increase in strength in direct proportion to the demands placed upon them.” He believed that a minimum of twenty hours of exercise were necessary to obtain maximal development of the pelvic muscles.
Dr. Kegel wrote a number of classic articles including: The Non-Surgical Treatment of Genital Relaxation; Progressive Resistance Exercise in the Functional Restoration of the Perineal Muscles; Sexual Functions of the Pubococcygeus Muscle; and The Physiologic Treatment of Poor Tone and Function of the Genital Muscles and of Urinary Stress Incontinence. Their content is summarized in the paragraphs that follow.
Since pregnancy, labor and delivery invariably inflict damage to pelvic anatomy—often resulting in flabby, weakened and poorly functional pelvic muscles—Kegel designed a pelvic training program that he used successfully on thousands of his patients. His objectives were a tighter, toned and firmer vaginal canal with improved urinary control, pelvic support and sexuality. He observed that the tricky thing about pelvic floor muscle injuries as opposed to injuries of external muscles is that the pelvic floor muscles are internal, hidden muscles that cannot be directly observed and thus their injuries are masked.
His program of pelvic rehabilitation incorporated four important principles. The first was that of muscle education—an understanding of pelvic anatomy and function. This enabled muscle memory—the development of the nerve pathway from the brain to the pelvic floor. The second principle was feedback to confirm to the exerciser that the proper muscles were being used, important since studies have shown that up to 50% of women who think they are doing pelvic exercises properly are actually squeezing other muscles, typically the rectus (abs), gluteal (butt) and adductor (thigh) muscles. Feedback served as a means of demonstrating that initial weak and irregular contractions became strong and sustained and a way of measuring and monitoring progress over time as pelvic strength increased. The feedback also provided motivation; by demonstrating improvement over time, the exerciser was incentivized and inspired to keep at the program. The third principle was resistance, which further challenged the pelvic muscles to work harder to increase their tone, texture and bulk. Resistance was capable of rapidly escalating pelvic strength and endurance since growth of muscles occurs in direct proportion to the demands placed upon them, a basic principle of muscle physiology. The final principle was progressive intensity, an escalation of exercise magnitude and degree of difficulty over time, key to increasing pelvic strength and endurance.
Bottom Line: Dr. Arnold Kegel was a champion of pelvic floor exercises, popularizing them in postpartum females. He established that pelvic health can be restored through education and focused pelvic floor muscle training using resistance and biofeedback. Restoration of pelvic health via exercise is simply a case of tapping into your body’s remarkable ability to adapt to the stresses and resistances placed upon it.
Wishing you the best of health,
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Author of THE KEGEL FIX: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health– and MALE PELVIC FITNESS: Optimizing Sexual & Urinary Health available on Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, B&N Nook and Kobo; paperback edition available at TheKegelFix.com
Author page on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Siegel/e/B004W7IM48
Trailer for The Kegel Fix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHZxoiQb1Cc
Co-creator of Private Gym and PelvicRx: comprehensive, interactive, FDA-registered follow-along male pelvic floor muscle training programs. Built upon the foundational work of Dr. Kegel, these programs empower men to increase pelvic floor muscle strength, tone, power, and endurance: www.PrivateGym.com or Amazon. In the works is the female PelvicRx pelvic floor muscle training DVD.
Pelvic Rx can be obtained at http://www.UrologyHealthStore.com, an online store home to quality urology products for men and women. Use promo code “UROLOGY10” at checkout for 10% discount.