For many women, aging can present a variety of expected and unexpected hormonal and physical changes, including bladder leaks.
As a Doctor of Physical Therapy, I frequently see women come in with questions regarding bladder leaks and how to strengthen their pelvic floor. The pelvic floor is located between your tailbone and the pubic bone, and it plays an important role in supporting the bladder, bowel, uterus and vagina.
The truth is, 1 in 3 women experience bladder leaks, yet many women are still embarrassed to talk about leaks with their doctors, friends or family. Incontinence can have many contributing factors including past pregnancies, race, hysterectomy, weight, genetics and muscle weakness.
The following are a few ways that I recommend managing bladder leaks, so you can continue to live life and pursue fun activities without worrying about leaks:
1. Know how to Identify Bladder Leaks
Many of my patients experience bladder leaks due to one of these conditions: Stress Urinary Incontinence, Urge Urinary Incontinence or Mixed Urinary Incontinence.
Taking the time to schedule an appointment with your doctor and to figure out what condition is contributing to your bladder leaks is an important part of the treatment process. Once you’ve established what the cause is, you’ll be able to move forward with finding the solution that works best for you.
2. Visit a Pelvic Health Physical Therapist
Pelvic health physical therapists can help you maintain a well-functioning pelvic floor and build muscle, correct postural problems, and maintain a healthy weight. I use the “Four S’s” to describe the function of the pelvic floor: Support of Organs (protects bladder), Sphincteric Function (prevents bowel/bladder leaks), Sexual Function and Support of Posture (works with your core).
Leaks can be caused by weak or uncoordinated pelvic floor muscles. In a normally functioning urinary control system, the pelvic floor muscles relax when the bladder muscles contract, allowing us to void. Pelvic health physical therapists can help patients maintain a well-functioning pelvic floor that enables bladder muscles to contract when they are supposed to (to pee) or to relax (to fill our bladder).
Pelvic health physical therapists assess how well the pelvic floor muscle contracts, relaxes and/or coordinates with larger muscle groups. We can treat patients through pelvic floor biofeedback, muscle coordination training, breathing techniques, behavioral retraining and progressive loading exercises. To find a pelvic health physical therapist near you, click here: https://aptapelvichealth.org/ptlocator/.
3. Practice These Exercises to Engage the Pelvic Floor
Here are a few of my favorite at-home exercise recommendations to engage the pelvic floor, beyond Kegels:
One common theme with each of these exercises is that they engage the transverse abdominus (your abs) which supports pelvic floor muscle function and posture. I always have my patients start exercises with a pelvic floor contraction, then gently activate the abs before building other exercises on top of it.
Taking some time out of your day to practice a few of these exercises can really have a positive impact on the overall health of your pelvic floor and lead to fewer bladder leaks.
4. Find The Right Products to Manage Leaks
It’s important for women to find the right product for them to ensure that they feel confident and secure when handling bladder leaks. Most women with bladder leaks (69%) still use period pads,* which don’t protect from bladder leakage. Pads created specifically for bladder leaks are designed to contain the dribbles, bursts and gush output, compared to period pads that are designed to handle slow-moving menstrual flows.
Pelvic floor physical therapists can point you in the right direction when it comes to finding a product that will help you best manage bladder leaks. As patients work towards their goals of treating bladder leaks and returning to activities/exercise, I recommend managing leaks with products like Poise Ultra Thin Pads with Wings, which keep women 10 times drier than the leading period pad.
Each of these tips can set you on the path towards living life without worrying about leaks. It’s important to remember that strengthening the muscle groups around the pelvic floor can support pelvic floor muscle function. It’s important to have open, honest conversations about bladder leaks so we can shatter stigmas holding women back from exercising and staying active.
*These findings are derived from an online survey of a nationally representative sample of 500 U.S. moms 18+ with children between the ages of 5-15, that was conducted between March 31 and April 4, 2022 with a margin of error of +/-4%.
Bio: Poise® partner Dr. Heather Jeffcoat, DPT, Pelvic Health Physical Therapist is the founder of Fusion Wellness & Femina Physical Therapy (FeminaPT.com) and President of the Academy of Pelvic Health Physical Therapy. Her work focuses on pelvic and sexual health education for all, and she lectures internationally on Female Sexual Dysfunction and chronic pelvic pain. She is also the author of Sex Without Pain: A Self Treatment Guide to the Sex Life You Deserve.