You Are Not Alone
By Beth Jennings, PT, MPT
You’ve seen the ads. An older woman in slim-fitting pants plays with her grandson in the park. Her secret is that she’s wearing a bladder protection pad because when she picks him up, or he makes her laugh, she tinkles a little.
Urinary incontinence (UI), an unintentional release of urine, can be an uncomfortable topic, maybe even an embarrassing one, to discuss. You may try to make light of it, but it’s impacting your life.
Maybe your story is that you can’t get the key in the front door fast enough so you can race to the bathroom. Sometimes, you make it in time.
Or maybe your life has been scheduled around locations of bathrooms ever since that pregnancy, prostate surgery, or illness.
Wearing protective pads and rearranging your life may be helpful, but those are not your only options.
This is only a problem for older women, right?
Not entirely. A study out of Washington State on U.S. women did show an increased prevalence of UI as women got older, but they aren’t the only ones experiencing difficulties.
- The same study showed a surprising 28% of women ages 30-39 reporting UI.
- According to the American Urology Association, UI affects one- quarter to one-third of U.S. men and women.
- In a 2021 study published in the Journal of Science & Medicine in Sport, 45.1% of female and 14.7% of male elite athletes reported UI.
What is pelvic health physical therapy?
Pelvic health refers to the health of the pelvic floor, the lower portion of your abdomen consisting of muscles, ligaments, connective tissue, skin, nerves, and blood vessels. This sling of tissues supports the organs of the pelvis and houses the “exit doors” for emptying the bladder and rectum.
According to Ellen Tucker, DPT at FYZICAL – Forest Grove, “[Pelvic health disorders] are a taboo topic, but a really important one. This is a population I’ve been interested in serving since I was in physical therapy school.”
Pelvic health physical therapy involves the care of a variety of pelvic conditions other than urinary incontinence and can include education and treatment depending on the problem presented.
Types of urinary incontinence
Whether the leak is a drop of urine or a release of the full tank, if it’s involuntary, then it’s incontinence. It could be a temporary condition or one that is ongoing.
UI can be divided into several types:
- Urge Incontinence: The urgent need to rush to a bathroom that comes on quickly. It is sometimes called an overactive bladder.
- Stress Incontinence: Leaking urine in the presence of physical pressure such as coughing, sneezing, jogging, or lifting something heavy.
- Mixed Incontinence: A combination of urge and stress incontinence.
Causes of Urinary Incontinence?
Causes can vary depending on the type of incontinence. For example, with stress incontinence, the muscles of the pelvis floor may have become weak.
Urge incontinence, on the other hand, can be caused by abnormal bladder contractions from an infection, irritation, or other diagnosis.
Ellen suggests discussing your symptoms with your primary care provider (PCP), urologist, or gynecologist and ask if a physical therapy referral is appropriate.
Take a survey of all pelvic floor symptoms to help you have that discussion.
Who is most at risk for urinary incontinence?
- Women after pregnancy and delivery
- Men with prostate issues or a history of prostate surgery
- Menopausal women
- Those with diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, smoking history, obesity, or poor overall health.
What to expect with a referral to physical therapy
Ellen will review your medical history and current symptoms in a private room. An internal and external evaluation of the pelvic floor muscles is preferred but not critical. If you are not comfortable with this portion of the examination or you would like to have another person present, she can accommodate this.
As with other conditions treated in physical therapy, education is a large component. Ellen offers expertise, written handouts, and examples of products that may be helpful in your treatment.
Thinking it’s time to take care of your UI complaints? Give us a call at 503-357-1706 for your appointment with Ellen today. Don’t forget you can also share this post through the links at the top of this page.
Beth Jennings, PT, MPT is a freelance writer and a physical therapist.
Disclaimer This blog is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
Minassian VA, Stewart WF, Wood GC. Urinary incontinence in women: variation in prevalence estimates and risk factors. Obstet Gynecol. 2008 Feb;111(2 Pt 1):324-31.
Melville JL, Katon W, Delaney K, Newton K. Urinary incontinence in US women: a population-based study. Arch Intern Med. 2005 Mar 14;165(5):537-42.
Rodríguez-López ES, Calvo-Moreno SO, Basas-García Á, Gutierrez-Ortega F, Guodemar-Pérez J, Acevedo-Gómez MB. Prevalence of urinary incontinence among elite athletes of both sexes. Journal of Science & Medicine in Sport. 2021;24(4):338-344. Accessed May 6, 2022.