If you can’t go for a run or sneeze without feeling like you’ve wet yourself, you’re not alone. You might be surprised to learn that, in fact, 1 in 4 Australians experience some form of incontinence. This equates to more than 5 million Aussies. Of those millions, 38% are women and half of these women are under 50!
Both pregnancy and childbirth are considered to put women at an even greater risk of developing bladder control problems so (sorry mums) the numbers are not on your side!
In addition to pregnancy and childbirth, there is a long list of other factors that may cause bladder leakage or incontinence.
We were, however, most surprised to learn from The Physiotherapy Clinic a couple of common things we may be doing with parts of our body, which negatively impact the pressure on our pelvic floor and bladder causing undesired escapee wees!
Unusual suspect #1: Your feet
It was news to us that movement within your feet is connected to the pelvic floor. Activities that force your feet to become tight and rigid can harm your ability to keep your pelvic floor working optimally. One nasty culprit is regularly wearing high heels. Studies have found that “walking in high heels forces the foot to be positioned in plantar flexion, which significantly decreases the activity of the pelvic floor muscles.”
Even those of you who don’t wear high heels often enough for this to cause concern may be holding tension in your feet that can have a similar effect. This tension may be caused by inflammation, overuse, or injury to the plantar fascia that leaves your feet feeling tight and rigid.
When your natural gait is upset and unsupported, the body must find some other way to compensate so you can maintain your balance and movement. This overcompensation can transpire as bending at the knees, tucking the pelvis under and thrusting the ribs, which actions can cause the angle of the pelvis to change. Such misalignment destabilises the weight-bearing ability of the pelvis and pelvic floor muscles, which can contribute to urinary incontinence.
Unusual suspect #2: Your stomach
In the pursuit of reaching conventional beauty standards, many of us have tried crunches, sit-ups and targeted ab-workouts designed to produce a firmer and flatter tummy. You’ve likely also heard that if you practice sucking in your stomach and holding it throughout the day, it will help train and strengthen your stomach muscles. This practice, known as “stomach gripping” may well do that, but did you know it could also be part of the reason why your bladder leaks when you laugh too hard?
It has been proven that “Habitually contracting your oblique abdominal muscles can exert force down on the pelvic floor muscles and potentially cause the pelvic floor to become overwhelmed, which could have consequences such as incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse…It’s also possible to consistently overwork your transverse abdominis muscle, which creates a “co-contraction” in the pelvic floor muscles and could result in a loss of flexibility in those muscles over time.
Perpetually sucking in your stomach means your abdominals are under constant stress. They are therefore less able to cope when additional pressure (such as jumping, running or sneezing) is put upon them, again contributing to urinary incontinence.
Even something as simple as wearing compression tights, corsets, or very tight-waisted pants or skirts may put your abdominal muscles under such pressure. Put under too much pressure, the abdomen will apply excessive downward movement on the pelvic organs and floor muscles leading to undesirable pelvic health outcomes.
How to treat urinary incontinence
Whether it is the surprising suspects above, or something else entirely, which is causing you to experience urinary incontinence or other pelvic floor problems, it is worth speaking to the professional physiotherapists at The Physiotherapy Clinic to diagnose the cause and formulate an effective treatment (or prevention) plan.
Their team of experts at The Physiotherapy Clinic blend their musculoskeletal knowledge and skills with their knowledge and skills on women’s health issues. So instead of just thinking about the bladder and the pelvic floor, they will perform a thorough assessment of your whole body to identify the underlying concerns.
They will provide a customised treatment plan, which may include helping you:
- Optimise your pelvic floor. This may include muscle releases, pelvic floor exercises and sometimes exercises to optimise the timing of your pelvic floor muscles.
- Optimise the way you breathe.
- Release and retrain your ribcage.
- Retrain the way you use your abdominal wall.
- Advice about exercise – what you can and can’t do.
- Advice on lifestyle (ideal weight, when to rest, how to effectively empty your bladder, defecation dynamics, etc.)
- Use pessaries. (Pessaries are devices that we insert up into the vagina in order to help hold the organs up.)
- Refer and liaise with specialists like gynaecologists, urogynaecologist, colorectal surgeons, if needed.
- With post-surgery advice and rehabilitation, if needed.
- Release and retrain any other part of the body that may be contributing to the problem.
Armed with this advice and support, you can let go of anxiety around untimely leakages and get on with your life with peace of mind.