Hemorrhoids have plagued mankind since time immemorial and are also one of the most common causes of rectal and anal pathology. Consequently, they are implicated in almost all anorectal issues by both patients and medical professionals. But what are they really?
Hemorrhoids are swollen and enlarged blood vessels located in the lower part of the rectum and the anus. While the direct cause isn’t exactly known, hemorrhoids are usually associated with increased abdominal pressure due to pregnancy, chronic constipation or diarrhea, straining to have a bowel movement, among others. Another factor is weakening of muscles and connective tissue that comes as a result of aging.
So how do you find out if you have hemorrhoids?
Hemorrhoids commonly present with painless bleeding during bowel movements. They may also be accompanied with pain, itching, irritation, and swelling around the anus. However, consider that a total of 40% of individuals don’t have any symptoms, therefore they aren’t sufficient to completely rule out the presence of hemorrhoids. Furthermore, these manifestations are associated with a myriad of other illnesses that affect the gastrointestinal system. For these reasons, it’s imperative to always seek confirmation and advice from qualified medical professionals before starting treatment.
Exercise as a treatment option
Treatment options for hemorrhoids have always varied. In fact, historically, treatment of hemorrhoids ranged from relatively innocuous methods such as dietary modifications and incantations to extreme options like
While these methods all have merit, there’s a particular option that people tend to overlook, and that’s exercise. Exercise is probably one of the most effective ways to get a handle on your hemorrhoids in the long term since it’s a sure-fire way to both prevent and treat hemorrhoids.
Standing or sitting for long periods of time without any physical activity will put a strain on your pelvic floor muscles and rectum thereby causing or aggravating hemorrhoids. Furthermore, exercising will improve your blood circulation, which promotes healing and prevents formation of clots in hemorrhoids. Being overweight is a risk factor for the hemorrhoids so slimming down using exercise certainly helps. Exercising will also help you keep fit, which does tons of good for your posture and promotes healthier and gentler bowel movements. All of these reduce constipation and straining.
However, keep in mind that not all exercises are beneficial. On the contrary, some exercises will directly aggravate the condition of your hemorrhoids. Heavy resistance training like bodybuilding and weightlifting will increase the lower abdominal pressure hence putting extra pressure on your internal organs and veins located around the anus. This can be catastrophic if you already have hemorrhoids and even if you don’t, that could easily change. Exercising as a treatment option for hemorrhoids isn’t about haphazardly engaging in any physical activity, you have to pick the right exercise.
Exercises that are beneficial for hemorrhoids include non-strenuous cardiovascular exercise, yoga and Kegel exercises. Among these, Kegel exercises are hands-down the best option for people with hemorrhoids.
What are Kegel exercises?
Kegel exercises are more commonly known as pelvic floor exercises and as the name suggests, they are used to strengthen muscles of the pelvic floor by alternately contracting and relaxing them. These muscles are located beneath the bladder, bowel, and uterus. Weak pelvic muscles therefore translate to lack of voluntary control of urination and bowel movements. Due to this, Kegel exercises are primarily used by people with urinary and bowel incontinence.
You’re therefore probably wondering what any of this has to do with hemorrhoids. As a matter of fact, Kegel exercises are a godsend to those with hemorrhoids. They provide relief by improving blood flow in the pelvic region extending to the rectal and anal areas. Also, by strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, Kegel exercises minimise the chance of internal hemorrhoids becoming external hemorrhoids, which are magnitudes worse. Furthermore, strong pelvic floor muscles promote anal sphincter control and also help you empty your bowels. This will help you avoid straining during bowel movements therefore preventing formation and exacerbation of hemorrhoids.
Benefits of Kegel exercises
Don’t forget that the benefits of Kegel exercises aren’t just restricted to treating hemorrhoids alone. Others include:
- Strengthening of the Pubococcygeus muscles (PC muscles)
- Increasing blood supply and innervation to the pelvic region for improved health and function of associated organs.
- Improved sexual response and function in both sexes.
- Restoration of vaginal muscle tone as well as improved vaginal health.
- Quick recovery from the physical stress of childbirth
- Increasing the thickness of the vaginal wall and lubrication after menopause.
Kegels for women
Kegel exercises are simple clench-and-release actions that are very easy to perform. Once you get the hang of them, you can do them anywhere and anytime – while brushing your teeth at home or even while waiting in line when buying groceries.
To start, you should first locate the muscles you will be strengthening. Find the pelvic floor muscles by attempting to slow down or stop your urine flow mid-stream and getting a feel for the muscles used to achieve this. You can contract and relax the muscles to solidify your familiarity because this is key before starting the Kegel exercises.
Keep in mind that this method is for learning purposes only. It’s not a good idea to regularly interrupt your urine flow. Doing this will predispose you to acquiring a urinary tract infection (UTI) due to incomplete emptying of the bladder. It can also lead to urinary incontinence which is ironically the direct opposite of what Kegels are trying to accomplish.
If you still can’t localize the required muscles, then try placing a clean finger inside your vagina and actively tighten your vaginal muscles. Talk to your gynecologist if you still aren’t sure about the correct muscles. They may recommend biofeedback training to help identify and isolate your pelvic muscles. Biofeedback training is a procedure where a doctor will insert a small probe into your vagina or put adhesive electrodes outside your vagina or anus. Once you try the Kegel exercises, the monitor will show whether you’re using the correct pelvic muscles and how long you can hold contractions.
Your gynecologist can also recommend the use of a vaginal cone in such circumstances. The vaginal cone is also inserted into the vagina then you use your pelvic floor muscles to try to keep it in place. If it stays in, then you’re right on track.
Immediately before starting the Kegels, empty you bladder. Performing the exercises on a full or partially full bladder may cause some urine leakage. Moreover, you may experience some pain due to the pressure of a full bladder on your pelvic floor muscles. After that, find a comfortable position either sitting on a chair or lying down on the floor.
How to do Kegel exercises for Women:
- Start off by squeezing your pelvic floor muscles for 5 seconds. This is a great exercise when just beginning since you don’t want to strain your muscles too much. In fact, if five seconds feels like a lot, then you can begin by tightening your muscles for only 2-3 seconds. Don’t worry, you can increase the seconds once you start getting the hang of it, but we’ll get to that later.
- After squeezing your pelvic floor muscles, release them for 10 seconds. This will give your muscles a moment to relax and help you avoid unnecessary strain.
- After counting to 10, you can then begin the next repetition of the exercise. Doing this will count as one set of Kegels. Finish 10 sets of Kegels to complete a single session. Completing 10 sets of Kegel 3-4 times should be more than enough for a day’s work.
Make the Kegel exercises part of your daily routine for the best results. You can aim to do them in the morning, afternoon, and evening like clockwork and be consistent. As you continue the exercises, gradually increase the number of seconds you can tighten your pelvic floor muscles to 10. Do this by adding a second or two each week till you reach 10 seconds. Once you reach this goal, there’s no more need of adding another second or increasing the number of sets you do per session. Just stick to the routine, and continue to do 3-4 sets of 10 second Kegels per day. This is sufficient to ensure maximum benefits.
Kegels for men
Contrary to popular belief, Kegels aren’t just for women. Initially, the creator of this exercise, Dr Arnold Kegel is thought to have intended them to assist pregnant women maintain vaginal muscle tone during both delivery and recovery. However, Kegel exercises have since been proved to have numerous benefits including treating hemorrhoids. So don’t miss out just because you think they are too embarrassing or ‘unmanly’.
- Contract the pelvic floor muscles and hold them in this state for a slow count of five. If this feels like too much, you can instead begin by contracting these muscles for 2-3 seconds.
- After tensing for the set number of seconds, release the pelvic floor muscles and keep them relaxed for another 5 seconds. Keeping the muscles relaxed should be a conscious effort in order to avoid accidental twitches and flexes.
- Repeat the above steps 10 times in a single session before stopping. Perform these 10 sets of Kegels three times daily for the best effect.
After a few weeks, you can gradually increase the time until you are eventually keeping your pelvic muscles contracted for a total of 10 seconds. Additionally, start doing the exercises while standing up since this will put more weight on your muscles, giving you a better workout once you’re more experienced.
Once you become even more accomplished and better and control, you can easily incorporate the Kegel exercises into other daily rituals like brushing teeth or taking a shower. By doing this, you can easily meet your exercise goals for the day without having to set aside specific time periods for Kegels.
When can you expect results?
Just like any other form of exercise, the results are gradual but long-lasting, so be patient. If you follow the Kegel exercise routines outlined above to the letter, you should be seeing some results within 7 weeks. The hemorrhoids will reduce in size and any associated pain will diminish.
If nothing happens within 2 months, then you’re probably dealing with the wrong muscle groups. Contact your doctor and seek advice on how to exercise the correct muscles. So if hemorrhoids are troubling you, try incorporating these Kegel exercises into your treatment plan and watch the results speak for themselves.
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