Physical Therapy for Urinary Incontinence and Back Pain

Treating low back pain can prevent women from leaking urine, or urinary incontinence, while exercising. Recent evidence confirms a relationship between urinary incontinence and low back pain, and, at Palmer Physical Therapy for Women, our female physical therapists have found success in treating these problems with physical therapy.

What is urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence is defined as any involuntary leakage of urine. There are different types of urinary incontinence – the most common of which is stress urinary incontinence (SUI), affecting mostly female athletes. SUI is defined as the involuntary leakage of urine on effort or exertion, such as sneezing, coughing or jumping.

Who suffers from urinary incontinence?

Urinary incontinence, most often perceived as a problem in older women, commonly affects young elite female athletes and has been documented in girls in junior high and high school.

  • Prevalence rates vary 10-55 percent in women ages 15-64.
  • The prevalence of stress urinary incontinence (SUI) in young female athletes ranges from 0 percent in golfers to 80 percent in trampolinists.
  • SUI is shown in research to occur in 28 percent of collegiate female athletes and two-thirds of collegiate female gymnasts.
  • The highest incidence of urinary incontinence is in high-impact activities such as jumping, landing and running, which includes sports, such as track and field, gymnastics, cheerleading, volleyball and basketball.

SUI is a threat to women and female athletes’ health since it may limit their participation in athletics or fitness activities, and it is a barrier to healthy self-image and esteem.

What causes stress urinary incontinence in female athletes?

SUI is commonly understood to be the result of weakness in the pelvic floor muscles that then cannot overcome the increase in intra-abdominal pressure occurring during high-impact activities, such as aerobics, jumping or even coughing. Studies have shown that women with SUI suffer from an interruption in nerve conduction to the pelvic floor muscles.

Sports and other high-impact activities also cause compression to the lumbar spine and result in nerve inflammation and low back pain.

How do you treat urinary incontinence and low back pain?

Traditionally, standard treatment of stress urinary incontinence has been strengthening of the pelvic floor muscles through Kegel exercises, which has a success rate of 44-69 percent. However, this limited success can be increased by addressing the root cause of nerve inflammation in the low back. Studies show a relationship between low back pain and urinary incontinence. At Palmer Physical Therapy for Women, our female physical therapists have found the best results in clinically treating urinary incontinence are achieved by targeting the underlying nerve pathology, which is sourced in the low back. Treatment of low back pain includes manual therapy, home exercises and body mechanics education.

The cause and treatment of urinary incontinence can be as simple as addressing the common ailment of low back pain.

Polly Holcomb, DPT

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