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Robert R. Cawley, D.O.

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10/17/2019

Rehabilitation Services: Treating Female Urinary Incontinence with Physical Therapy

By Celia Ellis, PT, DPT, Physical Therapist with Wentworth-Douglass Hospital Rehabilitation Services

“What if I have an accident?” It’s an all too familiar fear for more than 34 million Americans living with urinary incontinence. Urinary incontinence is any unwanted leakage of urine. This can happen to women young and old, from the active marathon runners to the 68 year old grandmothers. Urinary incontinence impacts women of every age, medical background, and activity level.

In fact, more than 50% of all women will experience urinary incontinence at some point in their lives. Shockingly though, women will wait an average of eight years before telling their doctors about this problem. But why wait to get help? For many women it is the stigma of urinary incontinence that keeps them from seeking treatment. It’s embarrassing! Worse it has become synonymous with the idea of “growing old”. Yes, age can be a contributing factor, but things such as childbirth, medication use, menopause and other medical conditions play a substantial role in developing urinary incontinence. More importantly urinary incontinence is not a normal part of aging and shouldn’t be accepted as inevitable!

Do you recognize these symptoms? There are four main types of urinary incontinence :

1. Stress Incontinence – most common and can occur with any physical activity, such as laughing, sneezing, coughing, running and exercise.

2. Urge Incontinence – happens when you feel a sudden uncontrollable need to urinate. Triggers include arriving home, running water, mental stress and cold weather.

3. Mixed incontinence – where you may have both stress and urge incontinence symptoms. Usually one of the two is more dominant.

4. Nocturnal enuresis: The medical term for bedwetting while asleep

So what does physical therapy have to do with this?

A physical therapist is a healthcare professional specialized in treating injuries and conditions that involve the muscles, ligaments, fascia, and bones of the body. Your pelvic floor muscles are located in the bottom of your pelvis. They are the main sphincters that allow you to start or stop the flow of urine and support all your abdominal organs, including your bladder. They are made of the same type of muscle as the biceps in your arms. Therefore, you have active control of these muscles and can strengthen them to become continent!

A physical therapist with advanced training in treating urinary incontinence will assess the muscles of your pelvic floor and evaluate the strength, endurance, coordination and tone of these muscles. Once the muscles have been assessed your therapist will work with you to develop an individualized program that may include exercises using technology such as SEMG biofeedback, bladder retraining, and lifestyle modifications to help improve your symptoms.

Bottom Line:
Physical therapy is a safe, effective way to treat urinary incontinence and is well supported by research. There are no side effects because it is natural to strengthen and tone your muscles with exercise. Depending on the severity of your symptoms physical therapy treatments usually range from eight to sixteen visits, generally once a week. So don’t wait to improve your quality of life. Speak with your doctor about pelvic floor physical therapy.

To learn more, call Wentworth-Douglass Hospital Rehabilitation Services at (603) 740-2101.

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