You know the old saying — “When you gotta go, you gotta go!” We have all been there! However, when you are unable to control the leakage, we are talking about urinary incontinence (UI). Some sources report that over half of women over 60 experience UI. Men also commonly deal with UI. Though this problem affects many of us, especially as we get older, UI should never be considered a normal or inevitable part of aging. Let’s look at what we can do to address some causes of urinary incontinence.
If you have leakage when you sneeze, cough, or pick up something heavy, this is called stress incontinence. A sudden strong urge to urinate that you are unable to control is urge incontinence. With urge incontinence, consider keeping a diary to track if there are triggers or consistent times of the day which you experience more UI. If you find a pattern, modify your routine; void before participating in triggering activities or plan increased frequency at a vulnerable time of day. A regular voiding schedule may also be helpful, starting with shorter intervals (perhaps 1 hour) and slowly increasing the intervals until you find a balance between frequency and control.
Reduce stress or urge incontinence by minimizing bladder irritants. Caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, carbonated drinks, and artificial sweeteners are all known to irritate the bladder. Also, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, may sure you are well hydrated. Not drinking enough water will lead to concentrated urine or constipation, both of which can irritate the bladder and increase the likelihood of UI. Urinary tract infections also can increase UI and urgency, so talk to your doctor if you experience an unusual increase in either.
Finally, we want to increase the strength of the pelvic floor muscles that control the release of urine. Pelvic floor muscles are just that — muscles — and will respond to exercise. Furthermore, the pelvic floor muscles are tightly interconnected with hip and abdominal muscles, and strengthening those muscles will benefit the pelvic floor muscles. A slow increase in general lower body strengthening will activate the pelvic floor muscles and allow them to get stronger.
A physical therapist can evaluate the cause of your urinary incontinence and instruct you in the appropriate exercises to address pelvic floor or associated weaknesses. If your situation is more complicated or you experience pain associated with bladder control, you should seek a physical therapist that specializes in pelvic health.
We all gotta go, and we all have places to go, so don’t accept UI as part of your day. Know that you are not alone — UI can be treated and often significantly improved or eliminated with lifestyle modifications.
Tiffany Salido is a doctor of physical therapy, geriatric clinical specialist, and owner of The Movement Joint, a wellness studio offering safe, PT-led exercise classes individualized for people with joint and muscle pain, weakness, balance problems, fatigue, and mobility difficulties, or who want personalized guidance to begin their fitness journey. Find out more at themovementjoint.com or call (828) 680-0422.