Treating incontinence with physical therapy

Guest Post: Amanda Allings PT, DPT, PRPC, Women’s Health, Westchester Commons

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Leakage. There, we said it.

Also known as incontinence, the condition that afflicts more than 13 million people in the U.S. annually is hardly a taboo topic.

For those over the age of 65, incontinence occurs in 51 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women have a higher rate of incontinence than men. Incontinence encompasses leakages related to either or both the bowel and bladder.

Incontinence risk factors

For the aging, incontinence is associated with a number of factors, including chronic conditions such as diabetes and stroke, cognitive impairment and mobility impairment. Bladder incontinence can also be influenced by aging-related changes in the lower urinary tract, urinary tract infection and other health-related conditions to include mobility impairment.

Risk factors for bowel incontinence include chronic diarrhea, inadequate fiber and water intake and chronic constipation. Health factors include diabetes, stroke, neurologic and psychiatric conditions, cognitive impairment and mobility impairment.

In addition to the financial burden, people suffering from incontinence may carry an emotional burden of shame and embarrassment that adds to the physical discomfort and disruption of their lives.

Treating incontinence

Incontinence is not inevitable with age, however, and is a treatable and often curable condition. Tidewater Physical Therapy specializes in women’s health services, including the treatment of incontinence and pelvic pain. Tidewater Physical Therapy’s services are aimed at increasing a woman’s quality of life through self-management and using specific strategies to reduce symptoms and improve function.

People with incontinence suffer most commonly from stress incontinence or urge incontinence.

Stress incontinence stems from the increased abdominal pressure and weak muscles, resulting in the accidental release of urine— this happens, for example, when people laugh, cough, sneeze or jog.

Urge incontinence occurs when people must get to the bathroom right away from an immediate urge that there is no stopping.

But because people feel discomfort in talking about incontinence issues, many people fail to seek treatment. However, talking to a family doctor or gynecologist for a referral to see a physical therapist who specializes in women’s health, can truly help incontinence symptoms and ease feelings of shame, isolation and depression.

The role of physical therapy

Physical therapy helps incontinence patients gain control of their symptoms and will reduce the need for pads, special undergarments and medications.

In a private treatment room of the clinic, patients will have their pelvic floor muscles evaluated.

The pelvic floor is like a sling of muscles and it runs from the pubic bone in the front and goes all the way to the tailbone in the back. It’s one of the components that make up the core of the body.

Treatment includes heat to relax the muscles, electrical stimulation, ultrasound and manual therapy. The first day of therapy, 20 to 25 minutes is spent simply educating patients on what exactly the condition entails.

A therapist will help patients “find” the right muscles and use them correctly. The pelvic floor is one of the components that make up the core of the body, so it’s important to work on core exercises. Pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegel exercises, will work to strengthen the muscles that control your bladder, and put the patient in control of their urges again.

Finding a Physical Therapist

As part of your healthcare team, a physical therapist will make an assessment of your condition and create a plan to start you on the road to wellness. Our team will communicate with your physician of record and obtain a referral, if necessary, for your continued treatment. We will also work with your insurance carrier to make sure services are covered by your plan. To make your own appointment, find a clinic near you.

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This article is sponsored by Tidewater Physical Therapy