The term "Kegel muscle" is used to refer to the muscles of the pelvic floor, which more correctly are referred to as the pubococcygeus muscles or PC muscles. The term came into common usage after the growth in popularity of Kegel exercises, which were developed by Dr. Arnold Kegel to help strengthen these muscles. Although largely focused on women, who are more likely to suffer from problems with pelvic floor weakness, Kegel exercises can be used by men, as well, and men also can benefit greatly from strengthening the Kegel muscle.
Pelvic floor muscles attach to the pelvis, forming a sort of hammock to support the pelvic organs, such as the uterus in women. The Kegel muscle is located on the floor of the pelvis and, in women, forms a double loop, like a figure eight, around the anus and vagina. Contracting the Kegel muscle controls the flow of urine as well as controlling contraction of the anal sphincter. Kegel muscle contractions also contribute to sexual pleasure during intercourse. In men, the Kegel muscle also helps control the anal sphincter, and it contributes to erection and ejaculation as well as urine control.
Pregnancy and childbirth, as well as delivering a baby, can stretch the Kegel muscle to an extreme degree, causing it to be loose and difficult to contract. This can lead to urinary and bowel incontinence and a decrease in sexual pleasure. Severe weakness of this muscle can even lead to prolapse, in which abdominal organs protrude through the pelvic floor. This is most often seen in women as uterine or vaginal prolapse. Age also can contribute to loss of tone in the Kegel muscle, which is why men can suffer from similar problems because of pelvic muscle weakness.
Other causes of weakness to the pelvic floor muscles include excess weight and certain kinds of abdominal surgery. Exercises to strengthen the pelvic diaphragm can help restore the natural strength and tone of the Kegel muscle, regardless of the underlying cause. Contracting the Kegel muscle as if stopping the flow of urine provides a surprisingly effective level of exercise for this muscle. Some Kegel exercises make use of additional exercises, usually with bulbs or spring devices inserted into the vagina to provide resistance for the exercises. These exercises provide more strenuous exercise and sometimes provide a way to measure the exact amount of pressure being exerted, but they are not always necessary to make the exercises effective.