Incontinence can be an embarrassing and inconvenient condition, but it is also a relatively common one; as much as 17 percent of women and 11 percent of men experience moderate or severe incontinence at some point. Women who are aging, pregnant or who have given birth are most at risk, but if you are experiencing incontinence, you may not be doomed to spend the rest of your life in adult diapers. Read on to discover how physical therapy can help reduce or eliminate your incontinence through specialized therapies and fitness regimens.
Strengthening the Pelvic Floor
The flow of urine is regulated in part by the levator ani, a muscle which stretches between both sides of your pelvis to form the pelvic floor, and the urethral sphincter. Both of these muscles can grow weak due to age or trauma, but the right exercises can restore them to full working order. Kegel exercises are a common therapy for incontinence that you can practice with your therapist and at home. They involve clenching and relaxing the muscles of your pelvic floor, strengthening them so that they can hold urine more effectively.
Reducing the Urge to Urinate
Many incontinence patients experience urge incontinence, or a frequent, urgent need to urinate. Kegel exercises are beneficial for this problem as well because they force the bladder to relax as the urethra clenches and releases. This can help you deal with urge incontinence while you are in public as well as train your bladder to signal that it needs to urinate less frequently. Your therapist may work with you to use this additional bladder control to gradually stretch out the time between urination until you have returned to normal function.
Stimulating Pelvic Muscles
If you cannot locate your pelvic floor muscles or if exercises are not enough, you may instead undergo electrical therapy to stimulate your muscles automatically. In this form of therapy, an electrode is inserted under the skin, rectally or vaginally. The electrode then releases a small shock, causing the surrounding muscles to contract. Electrical stimulation is more effective in women than men, and it seems to cause the same general response as Kegel exercises. For this reason, it is typically reserved as a last-resort option before more invasive medical treatments begin.
Preventing Harmful Mistakes
Many of these therapies can be performed at home, so why go see a therapist at all? A trained therapist will teach you to avoid costly mistakes in your exercises that could make your incontinence work. For example, clenching your abdominal or gluteal muscles during Kegel exercises can actually place extra pressure on your bladder and muscles and exacerbate your incontinence. With physical therapy, you will not only learn how to improve your bladder control safely, but you will also be able to set goals with a realistic time frame and adjust to any new complications quickly. With dedication and proper techniques, you may even see improvements in your incontinence within a few months.