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When we talk about the health of our all-important pelvic floor muscles (the muscles and ligaments that support everything in your pelvic region, including your bladder, bowels, and uterus), one product comes up a lot: Kegel balls (or Ben Wa balls). What are Ben Wa balls, exactly? Essentially, these vaginal weights are used to strengthen the pelvic floor, which can help address some types of pelvic floor dysfunction. Kegel balls can be beneficial as part of an overall pelvic health practice, but learning how to use Kegel balls properly isn’t as simple as you might think.

For one thing, you can’t solve all pelvic floor–related issues with Kegel balls alone. In fact, Kegel balls can actually make some problems worse, says Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, Los Angeles–based pelvic floor physical therapist at Femina Physical Therapy and president of the Academy of Pelvic Health Physical Therapy. “Many people think that if you have incontinence, prolapse, or pelvic pain, [you should] ‘just do Kegels,’ like it’s a magical exercise that cures all,” Dr. Jeffcoat tells POPSUGAR. That’s not the case, and it’s one reason why you should consult with your ob-gyn or a pelvic floor physical therapist before you start using Kegel balls. (More on that below.)

First things first, though. As much as you may have heard about Kegel balls, you might not know when and how to use them, what kegel ball exercises to do, and what Kegel balls shouldn’t be used for. And what about similar pelvic floor tools, like yoni eggs? POPSUGAR spoke to two pelvic floor physical therapists to clear everything up.

Benefits of Kegel Balls

Kegel balls can help to strengthen and increase the endurance of your pelvic floor muscles, says Dr. Jeffcoat, particularly after those muscles have been weakened or torn by things like childbirth or an injury.

Pelvic floor dysfunction, which is the inability to control the muscles of your pelvic floor, can cause symptoms like incontinence (urinary or fecal), constipation, pelvic pain or pressure, pain during sex, or pelvic muscle spasms. Because Kegel balls help to strengthen the pelvic floor, they may help with some types of pelvic floor dysfunction, although they should not be used if the pelvic floor dysfunction is caused by muscular tightness in the pelvic floor. (More on that later.)

How to Use Kegel Balls

Kegel balls are small, sphere-shaped weights, sold as one weight or a connected set of two. They’re designed to improve “the strength and endurance of a group of muscles that stretch from the pubic bone to your tailbone,” aka your pelvic floor muscles, says Bijal Toprani, PT, DPT, a physical therapist specializing in pelvic health at Hinge Health. Kegel balls are most often recommended for people with weakened pelvic floor muscles, which can happen after things like childbirth, traumatic injury, or nerve damage.

You use Kegel balls intravaginally, which means you place them in your vagina. Before you insert them, it’s best to wash your hands and the Kegel balls with antibacterial soap, then dry them off and apply some lube to help you slide them in easily. (You may also want to apply some lube to your vaginal opening.) After that, placing the Kegel balls inside your vagina is similar to inserting a tampon. Try lying down comfortably with your legs spread, then slowly inserting the balls one at a time. The end of the removal string should stick out so you can easily pull the balls out when you’re ready.

Kegel Ball Exercises

You can use Kegel balls in a variety of exercises, Dr. Toprani says, but she actually recommends starting with pelvic floor exercises that don’t use any weight. That’s because strengthening the pelvic floor is “like any other major muscle group,” she explains: you should start with bodyweight exercises (such as bodyweight Kegel exercises), then add weights when you get used to the movement and your muscles are ready for more of a challenge.

Dr. Toprani also recommends starting with bodyweight pelvic floor exercises because many people don’t have access to Kegel balls or simply don’t enjoy using them. “If the same outcomes can be achieved without purchasing an additional item or introducing a foreign item into the body, I believe that’s a better option from a clinical perspective,” Dr. Toprani says.

If you are interested in using Kegel balls to strengthen your pelvic floor, Dr. Toprani recommends the following progression:

  • Lying Kegels: Lie on your back with the Kegel ball inserted. Lift and contract the ball with your pelvic floor muscles, holding for five seconds before relaxing. Repeat for eight to 10 repetitions, or as many as you can perform correctly without holding your breath or squeezing your butt.
  • Sitting or Standing Kegels: “You can progress to sitting or standing positions to focus on strengthening the pelvic floor muscles while trying to hold the ball inwards and upwards against gravity,” Dr. Toprani says. “If you are able to lift and hold the ball in standing for one repetition, you know you are ready to progress to this option.” As with the first exercise, work to lift and contract the ball with your pelvic floor muscles while sitting or standing. Hold for five seconds, relax, and repeat for eight to 10 repetitions or as many as you can perform correctly without holding your breath or squeezing your buttocks. (Even one or two reps is fine!)

In general, “these strengthening exercises can be done two to three times a day and performed three times a week, typically on alternating days,” Dr. Toprani says.

Dr. Jeffcoat notes that you can also insert the Kegel ball and simply hold them in place for up to 15 minutes at a time. This allows you to “focus on low-level contractions to build up pelvic floor muscle endurance,” she tells POPSUGAR. Make sure to consult an ob-gyn or pelvic floor physical therapist before using Kegel balls or starting a Kegel ball exercise program, as these exercises aren’t recommended for every pelvic floor condition.

Yoni Eggs vs. Kegel Balls?

Kegel balls aren’t the only tools that people use for strengthening pelvic muscles. Yoni eggs (also known as jade eggs or crystal eggs) and Ben Wa balls can also be used for the same reason.

Kegel balls and Ben Wa balls are considered essentially the same product, except that Ben Wa balls have more of a sexual element; they’re said to be used to improve sexual pleasure as well as pelvic floor strength, Dr. Toprani explains. Kegel balls and Ben Wa balls are typically made of plastic, glass, or metal.

Yoni eggs, on the other hand, are made of jade or another crystal material. They’re said to have other healing properties outside of just strengthening and are thought to be Chinese in origin, although recent research disputes this. (“Yoni,” is a Sanskrit word that means space, source, or womb.) To use a yoni egg, you typically insert one vaginally. “The egg does not usually have a string,” Dr. Toprani notes, “which is an important consideration for a beginner with respect to removal and ease of use.”

If you’re considering using a yoni egg, take into account its material before you try it out. Natural, porous surfaces like jade and crystal “can’t be cleaned as well,” Dr. Jeffcoat points out, “and present the potential for bacteria to grow, which can result in infection.”

When You Shouldn’t Use Kegel Balls

Kegel balls won’t solve every pelvic floor problem and can actually worsen symptoms if your pelvic floor muscles are overly tight, Dr. Jeffcoat says. Pelvic floor dysfunction can be caused by either weakened pelvic floor muscles or extreme tightness, and while Kegel balls and strengthening exercises might be an appropriate treatment for the former, they might make the latter worse.

“Most people with pelvic floor dysfunction tend to have overactive or nonrelaxing pelvic floor muscles, which means the last thing they should be doing are Kegels,” Dr. Jeffcoat confirms. Your provider might recommend Kegel balls later on, she explains, but you don’t want to start there.

Many pelvic floor conditions are best treated holistically, Dr. Toprani adds, “meaning you must assess someone’s hip range of motion, their breathing patterns, how well they can contract, relax, and overall coordinate their pelvic floor muscles, and much more.” Kegel balls can be a helpful addition to this kind of program, but they’re really only one part of it, “not the end all be all,” Dr. Toprani says.

So if you’re experiencing symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction or are curious about using Kegel balls or Ben Wa balls to increase sexual pleasure, first talk to a physical therapist or doctor who specializes in pelvic health. They can help you decide the best course of exercises and determine whether strengthening your pelvic floor is really the way you want to go, or if it’s better to focus on mobility instead.

Maggie Ryan was an assistant editor at POPSUGAR. A longtime runner and athlete, Maggie has nearly four years of experience covering topics in the wellness space, specializing in fitness, sports, nutrition, and mental health.