What is incontinence?
Incontinence is the term used to describe the uncontrollable loss of urine from the bladder or faeces from the bowel. It ranges in severity from losing only a very small amount of urine, to a complete void of the bladder or bowel. If you’ve never experienced this, you can only imagine how distressing this must be. There are different types of urinary incontinence, including:
• STRESS INCONTINENCE, where small amounts of urine leak due to small increases in pressure on the bladder during physical activity, or from coughing, sneezing or laughing.
• URGE INCONTINENCE, where you get an unexpected, strong urge to urinate with little to no warning. This is usually as a result of an overactive bladder muscle.
• INCONTINENCE ASSOCIATED WITH CHRONIC RETENTION, where your bladder cannot empty fully, and you get regular leakage of small amounts of urine. There are many causes for this, including an enlarged prostate in men, or prolapsed pelvic organs in women, as well as medications and certain conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease.
• FUNCTIONAL INCONTINENCE, where you are unable to get to the toilet, possibly due to immobility, or wearing clothes that are not easy to get off in time.
Faecal incontinence is when you have a lack of control of bowel movements and you may accidentally pass a bowel movement, or even pass wind without meaning to. This may be due to weak muscles surrounding the back passage (Unfortunately ladies, this is common following pregnancy and childbirth), or if you have severe diarrhoea.
TAKING THE STRESS OUT OF INCONTINENCE!
For all those suffering in silence, it is time to speak out. There is no need to be embarrassed, it is surprisingly common – and like we have already mentioned, help is out there! You may not need to look very far. Your local physio may be able to help.
The most common type of incontinence that we see and treat is stress incontinence. Although seen across both sexes, women are three times more likely to experience it than men. It is very common in women following pregnancy and childbirth (when the pelvic floor muscles get over-stretched, and sometimes even damaged), during menopause (due to hormonal changes) and in the elderly. It commonly affects men who have had prostate surgery.
The pelvic floor muscles sit at the bottom of the pelvic bowl, spanning from the pubic bone to the tailbone (front to back) and from one sitting bone to the other (side to side). Imagine a tarpaulin stretched out with a person holding each corner and you kind of get the gist. When these muscles are strong, they help to support our internal pelvic organs (i.e. the bladder, bowel and the uterus in women) and wrap around the openings of the front and back passages, allowing us to control when we decide to do a number one or two. Following pregnancy for example, they may become weak and dysfunctional, and we can lose that ability to control voiding. It only takes something as small as a cough, or an activity like jumping or running (things many of us take for granted) that may cause a person to lose a small amount of urine.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO HELP?
The most important thing to point out is that not all types of incontinence will improve or resolve with just strengthening of weak pelvic floor muscles. So, it is very important to get an accurate diagnosis, because there will likely be other factors that need addressing too. For instance, losing weight, stopping smoking, and making other lifestyle changes are just as important in the management of these conditions, if relevant to the person of course. Some people may also require release of tight and over-active muscles.
Once you have your diagnosis, then strengthening may well be a part of your therapy. In order to strengthen, you need to know where the muscles are, and how to activate them. Below is a little step by step guide to getting a grip on those pelvic floor muscles (we don’t mean literally!):
1. Get in a comfortable position - try sitting or lying on your back and take a few breaths to relax.
2. Imagine you are trying to stop yourself from urinating mid-stream by squeezing for about a second. If this is not easy to feel, next time you are on the toilet emptying your bladder, have a go at stopping mid-stream and then relaxing again to finish emptying (don’t hold it for too long please - just enough to feel which muscles you need to use).
3. Do the same as step two for the back passage - this time imagine you are trying to stop yourself from passing wind by squeezing.
4. Do these quick squeezes 3 x 20 reps a day. Once you’re comfortable, you can do it sitting or standing. Make it routine… Do it when you’re brushing your teeth, eating lunch, or in the ad breaks of your favourite TV show.
These two contractions together form the basis of what you need to be able to do to begin your pelvic floor muscle training. If you struggle to feel this, then ask for help from your therapist. They will be able to help you perfect the activation of the correct muscles.
We hope you have found this blog interesting and helpful. Please join in celebrating World Continence Week (17-23 June),
1. Continence Foundation of Australia. 2019. World Continence Week. [Online]. [Accessed 07 May 2019]. Available from: https://www.continence.org.au/events_calendar.php/482/world-continence-week
2. Continence Foundation of Australia. 2019. Laugh Without Leaking. [Online]. [Accessed 07 May 2019]. Available from: http://www.laughwithoutleaking.com.au
3. Continence Foundation of Australia. 2019. Key Statistics. [Online]. [Accessed 08 May 2019]. Available from: https://www.continence.org.au/pages/key-statistics.html
4. Milsom, I. and Gyhagen, M. 2018. The Prevalence of Urinary Incontinence. Climacteric. 22(3). 217-222. DOI: 10.1080/13697137.2018.1543263
5. Continence Foundation of Australia. 2019. Pelvic Floor Muscles in Women. [Online]. [Accessed 08 May 2019]. Available from: https://www.continence.org.au/pages/pelvic-floor-women.html
4 June 2019