You know that pelvic floor exercise where you breathe in deeply through the diaphragm, contract the abdominal muscles after exhaling, and then hold your breath before relaxing? That little number is called abdominal hypopressive technique, and it was believed for quite some time that it helped treat bladder issues.
Turns out, we were all wrong: There’s not much proof, after all, that AHT works for treating said issues, including helping to stop bladder leaks.
A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine finds AHT may be pointless for urinary incontinence. “At present, there is no scientific evidence to recommend its use to patients,” Kari Bø of the Norwegian School of Sport Science in Oslo and Saúl Martín-Rodríguez from the College of Physical Education in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, told HealthDay.
“To date, AHT lacks scientific evidence to support its benefits,” Bø said. “At this stage, AHT is based on a theory with 20 years of clinical practice.”
The question, then, is what does work to prevent or treat leaky bladder?
Dr. Elizabeth Kavaler, a urologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who read the study, says Kegels can help. Kavaler told HealthDay AHT may not help prevent prolapse and incontinence, but Kegels and other pelvic floor muscle exercises can.
To do so, just hold your muscles as if you’re trying to stop peeing, and then relax them again.
Kavaler said managing your diet and weight along with exercising and practicing Kegels are the best ways to avoid having surgery for incontinence.
Dr. Carolyn Thompson, a gynecologist from Tennessee, says Kegel exercises and other pelvic floor muscle exercises are meant to treat stress urinary incontinence, which happens when the bladder support system fails. Kegels are also somewhat helpful in urinary urgency with incontinence, which occurs when the bladder contracts when you don’t want it to. She said that loss of large volumes of urine or severe bladder prolapse are less likely to be fully corrected by simply doing Kegels.
That said, she does recommend Kegels for patients with mild incontinence who have minimal pelvic floor defects and for pregnant patients prior to delivering.
“The literature has demonstrated that Kegels are effective in treating both stress and urge urinary incontinence,” she adds.
A version of this article was originally published in December 2017.