World Continence Week motivated the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) to join forces with the Continence Foundation in the quest to increase awareness and support for Australians suffering from incontinence.
The week (June 17-23) focuses on the one in three adult Australians (more than six million) who live with some form of incontinence.
Eighty per cent of these people are women with urinary incontinence caused primarily by pregnancy, childbirth and menopause.
The Continence Foundation’s ‘Laugh Without Leaking’ campaign advises that “strong pelvic floor muscles are vital for bladder and bowel control as well as good sexual function, but most people never exercise them correctly, and some don’t even know they have them”.
APA Continence and Women’s Health Physiotherapist Jenny Phillips says it is often embarrassing for women to talk about incontinence with their families and health carers, but they can call on physiotherapists who are hugely successful in the field.
Ms Phillips adds that the key priorities are getting an accurate understanding of the symptoms, whether related to urinary/bowel incontinence or sexual discomfort, as well as other pertinent medical conditions.
Physiotherapists will ask questions about the bladder, bowel and reproductive organs as they sit closely together and problems in one area can cause issues in another, she says.
A physical examination of the pelvis is also likely, as the problem could be a result of overactive or underactive pelvic muscles.
In a small number of cases the incontinence is related to overactive pelvic muscles, which means that excessive pelvic floor exercises could lead to increased pain and difficulty emptying the bladder and bowels.
In most cases, pelvic floor muscle exercise programs and lifestyle modifications are prescribed.
Ms Phillips emphasises that it is imperative that women get over uncertainty and embarrassment and get treatment as soon as possible.