Biofeedback: The Nonsurgical Treatment for Urinary Incontinence You Haven't Heard About

If your bladder betrays you every time you lift, laugh, sneeze, or cough, you’re not alone. About one-third of women over 45 and half of women over 65 have stress incontinence, the type that causes leaks when you exert a little pressure by exercising or sneezing. Although men get urinary incontinence (UI), too, women tend to suffer more often because the things that weaken the pelvic floor muscles — pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause — are unique to women. 

These aren’t the only causes of UI: nerve damage, chronic constipation, pelvic surgery, and carrying extra weight all contribute to the problem. One of the best solutions is to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and retrain your bladder to work as it should.

Here at Women’s Pelvic Surgery of North Jersey, Dr. Khashayar Shakiba and our team encourage women who suffer from UI to tap into their body’s natural ability to regain control of its inherent functions. Here’s how to do it.

Which kind of urinary incontinence do you have?

Finding out which type of urinary incontinence you have is key to getting the right treatment. 

Stress incontinence

As we mentioned, stress UI describes the leaks that occur whenever you put pressure on your pelvic floor. Lifting heavy objects, jogging, coughing, laughing, and sneezing are common activities that trigger leakage.

Urge incontinence

If you suddenly feel an urge to urinate and then your bladder starts to empty involuntarily, this is called urge incontinence. Waking up to a wet bed can be a sign of urge UI, and it may be caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI), diabetes, or even nerve damage.

Mixed incontinence

A combination of both stress and urge incontinence, mixed incontinence saddles you with symptoms of each.

Other types include overflow incontinence, which results in dribbles of urine even after you’ve used the restroom, and functional incontinence, which happens when mental or physical issues prevent you from getting to the restroom in time.

Stopping the leaks

Treating urinary incontinence depends entirely on the type of UI you have. For an overactive bladder, Dr. Shakiba may prescribe medication. For neurological issues, he may suggest percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation (PTNS) to improve the function of the nerves controlling your bladder activity. In some cases, surgery is the only way to solve urinary incontinence.

But for stress incontinence, the most prevalent type of UI, he teaches you how to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles and regain control of your urine. Known as Kegel exercises, these focused contractions target the muscles that support your bladder, uterus, rectum, and small intestine. 

How to do Kegel exercises

Kegel exercises may be the easiest “workout” you’ve ever done — once you get the hang of it. But it’s not so easy for everyone to master. The concept is simple enough: contract and relax your genital muscles. 

The trick is locating and isolating the right muscles, while keeping your abdominal and leg muscles relaxed and disengaged. Imagine you’re urinating and need to stop the flow, or that you’re about to pass gas and want to prevent it from escaping. Tighten the muscles that control these functions for three seconds, then relax and repeat.

Some women find it helpful to learn how to do Kegel exercises while lying on their back, but you can be standing or sitting as well. Once you become comfortable with the technique, you can — and should — do your Kegel exercises (in sets of 10) about three times a day, wherever you are, because no one will know you’re doing it.

How biofeedback helps

Like any exercise, Kegel exercises require a specific technique. Many women think they’re doing the Kegel move correctly, but they’re actually contracting the wrong set of muscles, like their abs or thighs, which won’t help your UI problem at all.

If this sounds familiar, Dr. Shakiba offers biofeedback, a noninvasive training tool to help you master your Kegel exercises. 

Biofeedback is simply a term to describe visual or audible evidence of what’s going on in your body. In that sense, a blood pressure cuff, a thermometer, and even a scale are ways to get biofeedback about internal systems you can’t see.

To help you “see” what’s going on with your pelvic floor muscles, Dr. Shakiba applies small sensors on either side of your anus, where your muscles are close to your skin’s surface. As you attempt to perform Kegel exercises, the sensors relay information to a computer screen that shows you which muscles you’re contracting, and which ones you’re not.

If needed, you make adjustments until you find the right group of muscles. With repetition, it becomes more and more natural until you master the technique.

To find out which type of UI you have and what treatment will stop it, call us at 201-279-5787, or request an appointment online today. 

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