More than half (53.2 percent) of the 150 million adult women in the United States suffer from some sort of urinary incontinence (UI), or the inability to hold in urine. Moreover, 70 percent of all women will suffer some type of bladder or pelvic dysfunction during their lifetime. Female incontinence is a distressingly pervasive and debilitating condition directly affecting women’s self esteem, activity levels, and ability to function within the home or work place. Specifically, UI inhibits exercise, healthy sexual activity, limits mobility, and has a causal relationship with depression. Eighty-five percent of incontinence sufferers are women. Many times, this is a result of physical changes, such as childbirth or menopause, which affect the pelvic floor and/or bladder.
Incontinence comes in many different forms, often categorized as stress versus urge incontinence. Urologists and urogynecologists can accurately diagnose incontinence. In many programs, physiatrists and physical therapists work closely with patients to address muscle and nerve issues that may be causing or contributing to the urinary incontinence. Exercise is a powerful modality in the treatment of UI, along with other methods such as electrical stimulation or medications, or a combination of treatments.
Kegel exercises, first described in the 1940s, are commonly prescribed for the treatment of incontinence. The exercises involve strengthening the pelvic floor (the sling of muscles that support ones pelvic organs) through a muscle-lifting motion. Many women need instruction in how to perform these lifts correctly. The muscles of the lower back and abdomen, which work in conjunction with the pelvic floor, frequently need strengthening as well. Since obesity is one of the modifiable risk factors for UI, exercise is often prescribed for incontinent women.
Recent research has shown that a community-based exercise program to strengthen the pelvic pyramid (pelvic floor, transversus abdominus and multifidus muscles) resulted in improved urinary control, reduced overactive bladder symptoms and improved orgasm.
Additional information on incontinence and exercises:
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse
National Women’s Health Resource Center
Women’s Health Foundation