Fight the Urge: Treating Incontinence with Physical Therapy

Urinary incontinence, which affects around 25 million people in the United States, is one of the most common health problems facing Americans—and one of the least discussed. Although it can be embarrassing to admit having trouble controlling your bladder, seeking help is imperative. There is no reason to live in uncomfortable silence when noninvasive and relatively easy treatment is available with the help of physical therapy. Despite the television commercials that suggest adult diapers and medication as the only solutions for incontinence, studies show that physical therapy can often help patients reduce or overcome symptoms in a matter of months.

The first step is to identify the type and cause of your incontinence, which is described by one of two ways:

  • Stress incontinence is caused by weakened pelvic floor muscles, often due to pregnancy, childbirth, certain medications, prostate surgery or obesity. With stress incontinence, you may experience leakage of urine when coughing, sneezing or laughing—all activities which create abdominal pressure.
  • Urge incontinence is also referred to as “overactive bladder,” because sufferers feel an intense and uncontrollable urge to urinate before making it to the bathroom. Causes of urge incontinence include nerve or muscle damage, nervous system disorders and bladder infections.

It is important that you see your physician and rule out other underlying causes for your incontinence and to determine what type you are dealing with, so we can design a program to address your specific needs. For those with stress incontinence, this begins with pelvic floor training using Kegel exercises (repetitive contracting of pelvic floor muscles). We can also use biofeedback to help you identify and isolate the muscles needed for better bladder control. For urge incontinence, treatment might be a bit more intensive, utilizing behavior modifications, dietary changes and electrical stimulation to help reduce your sudden urges and train your body to hold urine more effectively. Even for those who do require additional treatment, physical therapy can speed up healing and the effectiveness of surgery or medications. By closely following our recommendations, you should see improvement within three to four weeks—making the embarrassment and inconvenience of incontinence a thing of the past!