Don't Let Shame Around Incontinence Stop You from Seeking Help
200 million people worldwide suffer from incontinence – 1 in 3 women in Britain alone
Pregnancy, childbirth and the menopause are all contributing factors
Living with incontinence issues can affect mental health – find a therapist here
Have you ever found yourself crossing your legs on the doorstep, frantically searching in the bottom of your handbag for the door keys and hopping up and down in a bid to get the key in the door so you can get into the house before disaster strikes? Or do you pee every time you sneeze?
Pelvic floor dysfunction is a global health problem. It affects millions of men and women and, even in 2019, it remains underreported and taboo. More women than men will suffer as childbirth and the menopause are the common triggers for problems but men also have problems as they age due to prostate problems. But all of us, whatever our age or sex, probably will have some form of pelvic floor dysfunction at some point in our lives, so why is it still swept under the carpet?
I’ve been a continence nurse for the last 25 years, currently working at The London Clinic on Harley Street, and I’ve seen over 35,000 patients in that time. I see patients every day who tell me, “I am so ashamed I wet myself, I just couldn’t get to the toilet in time” or “How can I go to my gym class anymore, I dare not do star jumps”. These problems are so common and it’s time for change.
Pelvic floor and continence problems cause shame and embarrassment and can affect your general wellbeing and mental health too. It also has big social and economic impacts on society, with millions of pounds per year spent on incontinence pads alone. So let’s start a pelvic floor revolution. We should all be doing pelvic floor exercises and I mean everyone: young and old, male and female, wherever you live in the world. It’s absolutely vital and is incredibly easy.
How do you find your pelvic floor?
One way to isolate and find your pelvic floor muscles is to sit on the arm of a chair, an exercise or fitness ball or any hard surface with your feet flat on the floor. Imagine letting go like you would to pass urine or to pass wind. Let your abdominal muscles hang loose. Then, lean slightly forward with your vulval area in contact with the hard surface. With your hands on your thighs try to lift the area around your vagina and anus away from whatever it is you are sitting on. These are your pelvic floor muscles contracting.
See if you can squeeze in and hold the muscles inside the pelvis while you breathe.
If you are struggling to find your pelvic floor never give up. You can seek help from a women’s health physiotherapist or continence nurse specialist to get you started. There are many help lines and charities where you can get expert advice about all types of incontinence and pelvic floor dysfunction.
Here are my quick tips for great pelvic floor muscles:
The two most important things of all are: are you using the right muscles and are you doing the exercises regularly. If you're getting started with pelvic floor exercises, I'd recommend starting in the position I described above:
- Sit on the arm of a chair, or any hard surface with your feet flat on the floor. Lean slightly forward with your vulval area in contact with the hard surface. With your hands on your thighs try to lift the area around your vagina and anus away from whatever it is you are sitting on.
- Draw up all the muscles at the same time, squeeze, lift and hold for a count of five if you can, then try to build up to holding for ten seconds over time. Then, let go gently and count to five, repeat five times. Try to do the exercises at least twice a day; while cleaning your teeth is good time so that way you will never forget..
- Once a day, you should try to also do ten short, sharp contractions. Done in a rhythmic pattern of squeeze, let go, squeeze, let go.
If this isn’t going to work for you, please don’t give up. There are so many ways of getting the help that you deserve. Whatever you do, don’t suffer in silence anymore.