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Physical Therapy | Women's Health

Stress Incontinence: How Physical Therapy Can Help

December 9th, 2022 | 4 min. read

Stress Incontinence: How Physical Therapy Can Help
Leah Lee

Leah Lee

Licensed Physical Therapist, PT, DPT // EW Motion Therapy Hoover

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Think about what goes through your mind when you wake up with a large zit on your face. Zits can be annoying, slightly painful, and, most of all, embarrassing. Even though acne is a common skin condition, no one really wants to face the world with a large zit on their face. The desire to forego responsibilities due to embarrassment is called fear avoidance. For those struggling with stress incontinence, fear avoidance is real. You may fear going out in public, exercising, and more due to your dysfunctional pelvic floor. So what can you do about it? Are there solutions that can give you your life back?


No one should have to live with the burden of fear avoidance, no matter their condition. But incontinence, even though it may be uncomfortable to discuss, is treatable with the right interventions. Physical therapy can help retrain your pelvic floor to contract and relax normally, which is what our women’s health team does every day at EW Motion Therapy. But even if you decide not to do physical therapy with us, we still want you to get the help you need for your pelvic floor. 


This article discusses stress incontinence, the risk factors of the condition, how physical therapy can help, and other treatments that may be available. With this information, you can get the help you need and never let your pelvic floor hold you back.


What makes stress incontinence different? 

There are a few different types of incontinence. Still, stress incontinence, specifically, is involuntary urine leakage during any kind of exertion activity, which can range from sneezing and coughing to jumping and running. With other types of incontinence, the loss of urine can be completely random. Additionally, with functional incontinence, you have some other physical impairment that factors into the condition. But stress incontinence is unique in that it can occur during any kind of physical activity. Understandably, this can make many daily tasks more nerve-wracking, from going to an exercise class with friends to worrying about random coughing spells. 


Stress incontinence risk factors 

Since stress incontinence results from your pelvic floor not working properly, there are a few risk factors to keep in mind. You could develop stress incontinence due to childbirth - as your pelvic floor heals after giving birth, it can be challenging to regain the strength you had before you gave birth. Also, any kind of pelvic surgery or hysterectomy can weaken your pelvic floor, as can the normal aging process, especially for post-menopausal women. Obesity can be another risk factor, and if you develop a chronic cough, it can be hard to control your bladder in that condition. 


Physical therapy can be a great step in preparing your body for labor and delivery. Learn more about the benefits here.


How can physical therapy help? 

While surgical and prescription treatments exist for extreme stress incontinence cases, pelvic floor physical therapy is one of the best conservative treatments for the condition. When you come in for your evaluation, your physical therapist will assess you to rule out diagnoses like prolapse and the ability to activate the right muscles voluntarily. They may also perform an internal pelvic exam to determine whether your pelvic floor is too weak or too tight to function correctly. Your pelvic floor must contract and relax at appropriate times to control your ability to urinate and have bowel movements voluntarily, and if this system is not working properly, it can disrupt your entire day. 


In many stress incontinence cases, your pelvic floor is not contracting correctly, either because your pelvic floor is weak or it is too tight, which impacts the ability to achieve a good contraction. Your therapist will need to assess whether you need to improve strength and coordination or the length of the muscles. To help with strengthening, your therapist will walk you through strengthening exercises for not only your pelvic floor but also your core, lumbar spine, and hips. To improve your muscle length, your therapist will implement stretches and other interventions to help your muscles relax. They will also teach you to synchronize your pelvic floor contractions with physical activity, like lifting, jumping, coughing, or sneezing, to control your leakage and train your pelvic floor to combat the pressure that builds in your abdomen. 


Is pelvic floor physical therapy right for me?

Now you know more about stress incontinence and how physical therapy can help retrain your pelvic floor. Even if you are not struggling with incontinence, your pelvic floor is just as important as any other muscle in your body, and its functionality is key to going about your day with ease. Especially for women preparing for childbirth or recovering postpartum, pelvic floor physical therapy is one of the best conservative treatments you can do to restore your functioning and independence. 


Fear avoidance is real, but no one should be afraid to go to an exercise class with their friends due to possible leakage. You can retrain your pelvic floor and reclaim all your favorite activities without medication or surgery - pelvic floor physical therapists are experts in this, including our women’s health team at EW Motion Therapy. If you are interested in pelvic floor physical therapy with us, check out more information here, and click the button below to download our answers to 20 frequently-asked physical therapy questions.

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