Kegel Exercises After Prostate Cancer Treatment: When, Why, and How

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Surgery or radiation therapy for prostate cancer may irritate the urethra or bladder or damage the urinary sphincter (muscles that contract to prevent urine from flowing out of the bladder). As a result, some degree of incontinence (inability to control bladder function) can occur after treatment. Fortunately, severe incontinence occurs in less than 3 percent of men following radical prostatectomy or radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Nevertheless, recovering bladder control may take up to six months.

Pelvic floor (Kegel) exercises are one approach a man can take to manage incontinence. Developed by Dr. Arnold Kegel in the 1940s, Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic muscles that support the bladder.

To do Kegels, you must first be able to locate where the pelvic floor muscles are (an easy way to do this is to stop and restart your stream of urine and note which muscles you are using-though you shouldn’t regularly be doing this while urinating). Contract the muscles for three seconds and then relax them for an equal time; repeat 10 to 15 times. Gradually work up to 10-second contractions.

Another way is to contract and relax the muscles quickly. Or you can slowly contract the muscles until you reach a maximal contraction and then slowly release them. Repeat these sessions several times throughout the day.

Be sure not to use other muscles, such as your abdominal, buttock, or thigh muscles, while doing Kegels; using those other muscles won’t target the pelvic floor properly. And don’t hold your breath while doing them. If you have trouble isolating the proper muscles, a urologist, physical therapist, or nurse can instruct you. It may take a few months before you notice any improvement.