Wed 08, Mar 2017
Considering the pelvic floor’s vital role in urinary (and faecal) continence and sexual function (and pleasure), it’s a part of the body that needs to be taken care of well into old age. Unfortunately, some women inadvertently harm their pelvic floor while trying to keep the rest of their body in shape. Here are some common sabotaging behaviours:
1. Drinking more water than we need
So which brilliant marketing guru managed to convince the entire western world that drinking bucket-loads of water was the elixir of beauty and good health?
There is absolutely no scientific basis to the belief that water improves skin tone or reduces wrinkles. Apart from a few medical exceptions, the correct volume to drink is the amount required to satisfy our thirst; no more, no less. This, according to urogynaecologist Dr Ian Tucker, who has seen the darker side of excess water intake, and whose recommendations are backed by Kidney Health Australia’s position statement.
Excessive water consumption overfills the bladder and merely increases the risk of incontinence, he said, and in extreme cases can be dangerous. Our thirst dictates that we drink more on hot days and when exercising, when we lose the extra fluids through perspiration and water vapour, he said.
“But even then, we should only have to go to the toilet four to six times a day, which is the same as for every other day.”
Urine’s colour is also a good indicator of whether or not we are drinking adequate amounts, he said.
“Our urine should be pale lemon in colour. If it’s darker, you’re not drinking enough. If it’s paler, you’re drinking too much.
2. Exercising incorrectly
Lunges, squats, planks and high-impact exercises are perfectly fine if the pelvic floor is in good shape.
But if the pelvic floor is in poor condition, exercises that increase pressure in the abdomen or exert a downward force on the bladder can strain and stretch the pelvic floor. Overdoing these kinds of exercises repeatedly can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, much like overstretching elastic, according to fitness professional and Pelvic Floor First ambassador Marietta Mehanni.
However, strenuous exercise isn’t the only culprit, she said. Being overweight, continual heavy lifting or frequent straining on the toilet (due to constipation) can have the same effect.
Ms Mehanni said the pelvic floor muscle group, like any other muscles in the body, needed specific training to be able to withstand these sorts of pressures and stay strong enough to prevent incontinence. A strong pelvic floor was also critical for sexual function and enjoyment, she said.
“The best thing to do is to start focusing on strengthening your pelvic floor, as you would with any other muscles of your body,” she said.
“It’s important you’re doing pelvic floor exercises correctly and if you’re not sure, have an assessment by a women’s health physiotherapist or continence nurse.”
She recommended women go to pelvicfoorfirst.org.au, which lists a range of pelvic floor-safe exercises, has an excellent downloadable free app, and a great video on the correct technique for doing pelvic floor exercises.
3. Wearing panty liners
Panty liners may be a quick fix for the short term, but their ongoing use will only prolong and exacerbate any existing incontinence, according to Adelaide-based women’s health physiotherapist Dr Patricia Neumann.
“Incontinence doesn’t go away if ignored, but the majority of cases can be improved or cured, often by adopting some very simple measures,” she said.
Dr Neumann says that there were many options for help for women with bladder leakage, such as speaking to a health professional.
“Fixing the leakage is a realistic goal for most women, and the sooner you tackle it the better. There’s lots of help out there, like the Continence Foundation of Australia and its free Helpline (1800 33 00 66).”
The free, confidential National Continence Helpline (1800 33 00 66) is staffed 8am-8pm AEST Monday to Friday by continence nurses advisors who provide advice, free resources and information on local continence services.