By Cora Tomowich, MSc PT, Hons B Kin
“Oh my goodness, I laughed so hard that I wet myself!”
“I just couldn’t hold it anymore so I leaked everywhere…my bladder is ruining my life”
“Well since having kids, I leak more frequently but my doctor told me that was normal”
Do any of these statements sound familiar? I’m sure most of us have experienced or know someone who has experienced bowel or bladder incontinence at some point. The truth of the matter is there’s a lot of mixed information out there that does not accurately describe incontinence or what can be done about it. Incontinence can be caused by multiple reasons, such as, overactive or tight pelvic floor muscles, underactive or weak pelvic floor muscles, injury, bodily changes during pregnancy or labour, functional limitations, neurological impairments, high intra-abdominal pressure, etc. In this blog, I will discuss 5 things that I feel EVERYONE should know about incontinence:
1. Incontinence can affect women AND men
Statistics have shown that incontinence will affect 1 in 3-4 women and 1 in 9 men. Women are more likely to experience incontinence due to the specific reasons of pregnancy and labour, however, men may become more incontinent as the prostate changes with age. Incontinence is not a sexist entity; no one is born immune!
2. Incontinence can affect the young AND the elderly
Incontinence is often associated as the number one reason why elders are placed into nursing homes; however, it is not an ageist problem. Many young women (under the age of 40) will also suffer from incontinence, possibly during their childbearing years. There are also many young, elite female athletes who experience incontinence simply because of muscular imbalances in the pelvic floor in the presence of high impact activities.
3. Incontinence can affect women who have had children AND women who have not
Although the risk of incontinence certainly increases with pregnancy, labour, and multiple births, it does not just affect childbearing women. As I mentioned before, incontinence can affect anyone for the reasons I touched upon earlier.
4. Surgery should NOT be the first-line of defense
Unfortunately, when presented with patients who experience incontinence, many doctors suggest surgery or medications to correct the problem. The research, however, suggests that many times these surgeries and medications can be ineffective if the underlying causes of incontinence are not properly addressed. Fortunately, there is a plethora of high quality research to support the use of pelvic floor physiotherapy and/or pelvic floor muscle training as the first step to managing and eliminating this problem.
5. Incontinence is NOT something you just have to live with
Many women have been told that after a certain age or after having children, incontinence is inevitable and that there’s nothing to be done about it. Therefore, many women become discouraged thinking that this is an irreversible, lifelong problem and can ultimately suffer social and emotional consequences. Truth is, there are plenty of things that can be done to help treat incontinence. Strategies ranging from pelvic floor muscle retraining to correcting posture to adapting a new core strategy to normalizing intra-abdominal pressure, can all play a significant role in the management of incontinence and the promotion of patients’ physical, emotional, and social well-being.
If you have any specific questions regarding the role of pelvic floor physiotherapy in the treatment and management of urinary or bowel incontinence, please feel free to visit your friendly, neighbourhood pelvic floor physiotherapist!