Urinary incontinence is the involuntary or accidental leakage of urine that happens when coughing, laughing, lifting, or sneezing. The Canadian Continence Foundation says one in six Canadian women over 30 and one in four over 40 have urinary incontinence. The World Health Organization reports it affects one in three women worldwide. Although urinary incontinence has a huge impact on life, lifestyle and self-confidence, it’s rarely discussed. Sufferers are ofter embarrassed to talk about it with family, friends or health care providers.

Causes of urinary incontinence

The main types of urinary incontinence include:

  • Stress incontinence (leakage during physical activity)
  • Urge incontinence (leakage when you need to go but don’t quite make it in time)
  • Mixed (combination of the two)

Urinary incontinence affects women more than men because of pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, hysterectomy, and the structure of their urinary tract. Pelvic floor muscles become stretched with childbirth or sag with age and menopause. However, urinary incontinence can also result from injury, infection, disease, or medical condition.  It can also affect men and children.

How physiotherapists help

Physiotherapists with specialized training are highly skilled at assessing and treating people with urinary incontinence. A recent Australian study found 84% of women with stress urinary incontinence were cured with physiotherapy pelvic floor exercise training – and it only took an average of five visits.  

Getting an accurate diagnosis is key for effective treatment. Following an assessment your physiotherapist will develop an individualized treatment plan. Targeted strengthening and stretching techniques, bladder and pelvic floor training and lifestyle or habit changes can often successfully treat incontinence. Sometimes special equipment (biofeedback, electric muscle stimulation) is used. Specific exercises are an effective way to increase strength, endurance and coordination of the pelvic floor muscles and stop the urinary incontinence.

Physiotherapists trained in urinary incontinence treatment will:

  • Take a careful history to indentify your symptoms
  • Screen out conditions requiring medical follow-up
  • Discuss the impact on your lifestyle
  • Perform  a physical examination of your back, pelvis, sacrum, pelvic floor muscles, and nerve function  

Find a physiotherapist who treats urinary incontinence in your area.