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Taking Control: Understanding Incontinence and How Physical Therapy Can Help You Return to Activity

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

Incontinence is a problem many individuals experience, but few openly discuss. Despite its prevalence, there’s still a veil of silence around this issue, leaving many feeling isolated and unsure of how to regain control over their bodies. This blog post is here to break that silence, to give you useful, practical information, and to tell you that you're not alone. By the time you've read to the end, you'll have a deeper understanding of incontinence and the role physical therapy can play in helping you return to a more active lifestyle.

Understanding Incontinence

Incontinence refers to a loss of control over urination or bowel movements, which can range from minor leakage to complete loss of bladder or bowel content. There are different types of incontinence, including stress incontinence, urge incontinence, overflow incontinence, functional incontinence, and mixed incontinence.

Stress incontinence, for example, happens when physical activity or exertion, like coughing, sneezing, running, or heavy lifting, puts pressure (or "stress") on your bladder. On the other hand, urge incontinence involves a sudden, intense urge to urinate followed by an involuntary loss of urine. Understanding the type of incontinence you're experiencing is an important step toward managing it.

Incontinence can be caused by a variety of factors, including childbirth, surgery, menopause, prostate problems, and aging. It's important to remember that incontinence is a symptom, not a disease itself, and it can be managed and often significantly improved.

Physical Therapy's Role in Managing Incontinence

You might be surprised to learn that physical therapy can play a crucial role in managing incontinence. Pelvic floor physical therapists specialize in the muscles that support your bladder, bowels, and reproductive organs, known as the pelvic floor. These muscles are crucial for maintaining continence.

Pelvic floor physical therapy involves a range of techniques, exercises, and lifestyle modifications that can strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, improve bladder control, and reduce the frequency and severity of incontinence episodes. Here are some actionable strategies that can help you regain control:

Kegel Exercises:

This exercise involves contracting and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles. It’s like pretending you have to urinate and then holding it. You relax and tighten the muscles that control urine flow. It's important to find the right muscles to tighten. Next time you have to urinate, start to go and then stop. Feel the muscles in your body get tight and move up. These are the pelvic floor muscles. If you feel them tighten, you've done the exercise right. Your thighs, buttock muscles, and abdomen should remain relaxed.

Bladder Training:

This method involves gradually increasing the intervals between using the bathroom over the course of about 12 weeks. This helps retrain your bladder to hold urine longer and to urinate less frequently.


During biofeedback, your therapist uses special sensors and video to monitor the pelvic floor muscles as you try to relax or clench them. This feedback can help you understand and control your pelvic floor muscles.

Diet and Lifestyle Modifications:

Certain types of foods and drinks can irritate the bladder and may increase the frequency of urination. These can include caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, acidic foods, and carbonated drinks. A balanced diet rich in fiber can prevent constipation, a condition that can worsen incontinence.

Taking The Next Step

Physical therapy is a powerful tool to help manage and reduce the symptoms of incontinence, but remember, the first step is to talk

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