Urinary Incontinence and Acupuncture
Millions of women and men suffer from urinary incontinence, and yet, it’s a subject we don’t often discuss. Many believe that wearing adult diapers is just an inevitable part of life. I’m happy to report that this is a myth.
While there are several causes for incontinence, most commonly, it comes from a lack of proper care for the pelvic floor. Whether you are already incontinent or you want to prevent the condition from developing, acupuncture and Chinese Medicine are a significant part of this care.
Let’s begin by looking at the types of urinary incontinence, because each one requires a different treatment for the best results.
Types of Urinary Incontinence
Stress incontinence happens to people with weak pelvic floor muscles when they put pressure on their bladder as they exercise, cough, sneeze, laugh, lift heavy objects, give birth and from other body movements. This is the most common type and often affects women just after childbirth or during menopause.
Overactive bladder or urge incontinence is the sudden urge to urinate and the person can’t get to the bathroom in time. This type is most common in diabetics or those who have diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
Mixed incontinence is a combination of both stress and urge.
Overflow incontinence is when small amounts of urine dribble from a bladder that is always full due to a blockage or weakness in the muscles. This is often found in men who have a benign, enlarged prostate (BPH).
Some Causes of Urinary Incontinence
- Stretched pelvic muscles from pregnancy and childbirth.
- Strained muscles due to chronic constipation.
- Low estrogen levels in women, which causes the pelvic floor muscles to thin and weaken.
- Enlarged prostate in men.
- Side effects of some medications, including synthetic hormone replacement.
- Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs) or other types of pelvic infections.
- Diseases that damage nerve pathways from the bladder to the brain such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s.
- Injuries that damage nerve pathways from the bladder to the brain. I often see this in people who have been in a car accident or had a sports injury.
- Surgeries, such as a hysterectomy, can cause adhesions that affect the nerves in the pelvis.
Acupuncture Can Help Relieve and Prevent Urinary Incontinence
Acupuncture can directly affect the pudendal nerve and research trials show that it can help patients with urinary incontinence. Also, acupuncture affects the nervous system as a whole and brings increased blood flow to the bladder, strengthens the urinary system, reduces inflammation throughout the body and boosts the immune system. All these benefits are without any side effects.
For those with urge urinary incontinence, sometimes acupuncture alone gives great benefit by affecting the pudendal nerve, which controls the sphincters for the bladder and the rectum. For those with stress and mixed type, a combination of acupuncture and pelvic floor exercises yield the best results.
Bladder issues, like many health concerns are easier to treat the sooner you attend to them.
A Few Things You Can Do
- Avoid bladder irritants such as caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners and tobacco.
- If you have urge incontinence, you may find that acidic foods, such as oranges and tomatoes irritate your bladder. Pay attention to how you feel after you eat something, and if you feel it is an irritant, trust that feeling and don’t eat it anymore.
- Drink 6 – 8 glasses of water every day. Carbonated water can make urge incontinence worse. Some people think that limiting liquids will help, but it actually does the opposite. Not being hydrated irritates the bladder, making incontinence worse.
- Eat cranberries and blueberries. They contain substances that prevent urinary tract infections. However, if you have an overactive bladder, cranberries might irritate your bladder because they are acidic.
- For women, as we move into and through menopause, the relationship between bladder control and hormonal balance becomes more evident. Topical bioidentical estrogen applied to the vaginal wall near the area of the urethra clearly helps strengthen the pelvic floor.
- Squat often. Squatting stretches the pelvic floor in a healthy way.
- Do other exercises that strengthen the pelvic floor. I often teach these to my patients. Some physical therapists specialize in this field.
A Word About Kegal Exercises
Kegals, named after the American ob/gyn, Dr. Arnold Kegal are simple, but they are not as simple as just contracting the spinchter that controls urination. If you are experiencing urinary incontinence, I encourage you seek out professional help. There are many misconceptions about how these exercises should be done that can cause more harm than good. Perhaps the greatest myth is that these exercises should be done while stopping the flow of urine. This should never be done as it can lead to bladder and kidney infections.
Also, there many exercises that can help and each person needs to be evaluated for her/his needs. One size does not fit all.
Please call or text Cynthia at Singing Crane Acupuncture with any questions or for further information at 503-233-2549.