Erectile dysfunction (ED) occurs when someone cannot get an erection, or the erection is not firm enough to perform sexual intercourse. Although many men experience it sporadically, its more frequent occurrence may indicate other health problems.
Below, we will explain the main characteristics of this condition and what exercises can help improve your symptoms. Plus, find out when you should see a doctor, as ED can have roots that only a professional can address.
A large percentage of men with ED report regaining normal erectile function with exercise. Exercising the pelvic muscles could also significantly improve other pelvic health problems.
Kegel exercises are intended to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, promoting urinary continence and sexual health, among other benefits.
In cases of ED, Kegel exercises tone the bulbocavernosus muscle, which is responsible for performing three critical functions in an erection:
- Allows proper blood flow
- Contracts to cause ejaculation
- Empties the urethra after urination
A repetition of Kegels consists of squeezing the pelvic floor muscles, holding the tension for five seconds, and then relaxing them.
These muscles are in the lower part of the pelvis and can be difficult to identify. However, they contract when you stop the stream in the middle of urination. Stopping the urine stream several times helps locate these muscles.
You can do these exercises standing, sitting in a chair, or lying down with your knees up. Do 10 to 20 repetitions, holding for five to ten seconds each time; do the sets two or three times a day.
It is important not to hold your breath or press with your buttocks, thighs, or stomach muscles. A good idea to challenge yourself is to alternate between short and long squeezes.
Another way to do Kegel exercises is to squeeze the muscles of the anus as if you were holding a bowel movement. One repetition consists of holding for 5 to 10 seconds while breathing and then relaxing all the muscles.
Although it sounds simple, you might have difficulty finishing a complete set of 10 Kegel exercises on the first try. Exercise as much as you can until, over time, you get up to 10 to 20 Kegels three times a day.
Kegel exercises can also help with the following:
- Reduce urinary and bowel incontinence
- Improve the overall sexual experience
- Help stop dribbling after urination
The most common causes of ED are usually related to blood flow problems in the penis. Aerobic exercise can prevent factors that cause ED, such as vascular disease, diabetes, or high cholesterol.
Aerobic exercises are meant to get your heart moving. Instead of quick bursts of energy, you’re looking for a sustainable increase.
You can easily incorporate low-impact exercises, like taking a brisk walk, swimming, or biking for 30 minutes a day, three to four times a week. Not only can this improve your cardiovascular health to prevent or reverse ED, but it can positively impact your overall health.
Be sure to talk to your doctor before implementing a new exercise program.
As we have seen, regular aerobic and Kegel exercise is the first step to a successful approach. In most cases, ED symptoms improve without resorting to medication.
However, there are several alternatives in case exercises do not result in symptom remission. The following are the main options.
In patients with recurrent ED, doctors often prescribe oral medications, the best known of which are sildenafil (Viagra) and tadalafil (Cialis). Other common drugs include vardenafil (Staxyn) or avanafil (Stendra).
All of these medications promote the effects of nitric oxide, a compound that is naturally present in our bodies. Nitric oxide is responsible for relaxing the muscles of the penis, allowing the passage of blood and the subsequent erection.
These drugs can hide health problems or interfere with other nitrate drugs or anticoagulants. A healthcare professional will need to evaluate you in order to prescribe them.
ED pumps, sometimes called penis pumps or vacuum pumps, are a non-invasive treatment used to achieve or maintain an erection. The pump’s air suction mechanism draws blood into the corpora cavernosa of the penis.
While it does not cure ED, many patients report improving their ability to have intercourse after using penile pumps. In addition, this device can be used alone or in combination with other medications or methods.
Most of these pumps include a constriction ring that is placed at the base of the penis. This allows the erection to be maintained, preventing blood from leaving the penis. However, you shouldn’t use it for over 30 minutes, as it could disrupt blood flow or cause damage.
While it is a safe method, the penile pump may cause some adverse effects:
- Bleeding in patients with sickle cell anemia or taking blood thinners
- Petechiae (red spots due to subcutaneous bleeding)
- Bluish skin
- Painful ejaculation
- Numbness or coldness
Another treatment for ED is penile implants or prostheses. In these surgeries, inflatable rods are placed in the penis, along with a saline device and a pump in the scrotum. The saline solution inflates the rods when the pump is pressed, generating an erection.
However, this method is reserved for patients who have already tried non-invasive alternatives without success. Most patients who have undergone this procedure are satisfied with the results.
Since it’s a surgical procedure, there is always the risk of bleeding, infection, and scar tissue formation. Although rare, these procedures can also cause mechanical failure, tissue adhesion, or erosion, requiring another surgery to remove or repair the implant.
Penile suppositories or injections are a less invasive option. Common prescriptions include papaverine, phentolamine, or prostaglandin E1, alone or in combination.
These drugs relax the muscles and widen the blood vessels, promoting erectile function.
Suppositories are soluble medications that you can apply to the glans, but you can also inject the drug at the base of the penis. This method is recommended once oral medications have not worked or are contraindicated because of other underlying conditions.
Some side effects of penile injections include:
- Back pain
- Upset stomach
ED can have many causes, emotional and physical. To understand what factors cause ED, we must first understand how an erection works.
To begin with, sexual thoughts or contact with the penis stimulate blood flow. When sexual arousal increases, the penile muscles relax, allowing blood flow to enter the corpora cavernosa through the penile arteries.
An erection occurs when the corpora cavernosa fill with blood, becoming rigid.
Some factors block arousal at the mental level, such as stress, insomnia, low libido, or other psychological conditions. Physical variables can also interrupt adequate blood flow, such as certain medications or vascular disorders.
Some of the most common causes of ED include:
- Alcohol abuse
- Cardiovascular diseases, such as hypertension or high cholesterol
- Low testosterone levels or other hormonal imbalances
- Medications, such as those used to control blood pressure or antidepressants
- Renal failure
- Stress, anxiety, depression, or relationship problems
- Tobacco use and subsequent chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Use of illicit substances
As we have seen, several factors are involved in an erection, including blood vessels, muscles, hormones, and the brain. Therefore, the most important thing in dealing with ED is understanding the causes and how they affect each individual.
Since this condition can have physical and emotional origins, it is ideal to see a physician if you are experiencing recurrent ED. Through a series of tests and questions, a professional can approach the source of your ED and address it successfully.
The most common medical evaluations to treat ED include:
- Blood and urine tests
- General medical history check
- Psychological interview
Fortunately, there are safe, non-invasive methods to treat ED without resorting to drugs. Pelvic floor and aerobic exercises are simple, and you can do them anytime, anywhere. Therefore, they are an excellent first step in addressing ED.
However, treating the root cause of ED is the most crucial step in enjoying your sexual health. If you are experiencing this condition, we encourage you to discuss this with your doctor to identify the cause and consider the proper treatment.