Stress incontinence is the loss of control of urine during simple activities. Any increase in intra-abdominal pressure such as laughing, coughing, sneezing or sudden movement can cause a loss of control.

Urinary stress incontinence can be found in all ages and in both men and women. Generally, over 4% of the American population may be incontinent. It is very common with women, especially those who have had children. Leading obstetricians and gynecologists have found that 50% of their patients are at high risk for experiencing incontinence.

The National Institute on Aging estimates that 10 to 12 million of our elderly are incontinent. Incontinence is the second leading reason for admission into nursing homes. Despite its prevalence, most affected individuals do not seek help, primarily because of embarrassment or because they are not aware that help is available. Patients with incontinence have turned to absorbent materials, restricted their social activities, suffer from embarrassment and infections, and encounter skin care problems.

The muscles of the pelvic floor support the bladder in its proper position and control the flow of urine. A loss of strength and coordination of these pelvic floor muscles can cause urinary stress incontinence and/or sinking down of the pelvic organs.

Weakness of the pelvic floor muscles is often associated with pregnancy, childbirth, obesity, lack of exercise, estrogen deficiency, chronic respiratory conditions, prior surgeries and nerve damage affecting the pelvic floor. A urological examination by your doctor is the best way to determine the cause of incontinence.

Traditionally urinary incontinence has been treated with medication, surgery or tolerance. Medication is not effective in all cases. Surgery, while sometimes effective, should be used as a last resort. Tolerance, or learning to live with the problem, means a life of disposable diapers, absorbent inserts, scheduled toileting, and an altered lifestyle.

In many cases, urinary stress incontinence can be treated with physical therapy. This approach focuses on increasing a person’s control and strength of the pelvic floor muscles.

At your first appointment, the physical therapist will assess the strength and coordination of your pelvic floor muscles with special equipment that picks up the electrical activity in a muscle. After review of your evaluation results, an individual therapeutic program will be designed for you. Significant results are usually obtained within four to six weeks.

If you have incontinence or other musculoskeletal problems, speak with your doctor about a referral for physical therapy services.

Sheila Yonemoto, P.T., has been a physical therapist for more than 30 years, specializing in integrative manual therapy, utilizing a holistic approach. She can be reached at Yonemoto Physical Therapy, 55 S. Raymond Ave., Suite 100, Alhambra, CA 91801. Sheila offers a qigong “Chinese energy” exercise class. Your first class is free. Call (626) 576-0591 for more information or visit www.yonemoto.com.

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