They’re easy, free and completely discreet, yet most women of all ages neglect the most effective method of preventing, treating, managing and even curing incontinence.
According to a survey of more than 15,000 Australian women, less than two out of ten do their pelvic floor exercises daily, despite incontinence affecting one in three women who have ever had a baby. And while incontinence can certainly affect men, 80 per cent of those reporting living with incontinence are women.
In the lead up to Women’s Health Week (5-11 September, 2022), the Continence Foundation of Australia wants to remind women of all ages there is much they can do to reduce their risk of incontinence.
Not just older women and mothers
A 2018 Australian study found that one in three netballers experience incontinence and many women may stop exercising after giving birth due to incontinence.
Specialist Women’s, Men’s & Pelvic Health Physiotherapist, Shan Morrison, said ‘I see a lot of women who have reduced their engagement in exercise and other enjoyable activities and have withdrawn from life physically, emotionally, socially, and sexually.’
The CEO of the Continence Foundation of Australia, Rowan Cockerell, said ‘Incontinence is preventable and treatable in the majority of cases. The key to preventing or better managing incontinence comes down to protecting and strengthening the pelvic floor and adopting a few healthy lifestyle habits.’
Apart from pregnancy and childbirth, there are several risk factors for developing incontinence. These include age, being overweight, smoking, menopause, conditions such as diabetes and following bladder and/or pelvic injury and surgery.
Leaking while sneezing, coughing or exercising can hold young women back but can also be easily treated. The Go Against the Flow website is specially designed for young women to learn more: www.goagainsttheflow.org.au.
Anywhere, any time
Mrs Cockerell said pelvic floor exercises can be done anywhere, any time. ‘You can do them on the bus, at your desk, while you’re standing in line for a coffee, and nobody will even know you’re doing them,’ she said.
The good news is the exercises don’t just help with continence. They can also improve sexual function. Information on how to do pelvic floor exercises correctly can be found on the Pelvic Floor First website at pelvicfloorfirst.org.au.
‘Remember that there is help available,’ said Mrs Cockerell. ‘We have a national continence help line staffed by nurse continence specialists, as well as specific sections on our website with simple instructions on how to perform pelvic floor exercises, and links to resources designed with younger women in mind.’
The Continence Foundation was established to promote bladder and bowel control health, and to reduce the stigma and restrictions of all aspects of incontinence across the lifespan.
An avoidable problem
Rowan Cockerell said, ‘Many people are embarrassed about any incontinence issues. We know that it can lead to some people limiting their social and sex lives and then we start to see it having an impact on their mental health.
‘People think it’s just a normal part of ageing, but it absolutely isn’t, and nobody should feel they just have to put up with it,’ she said.
‘And given it’s such a common issue, there really should be no stigma attached to it. Our resources and experts all take a very commonsense and practical approach to helping people. We offer a completely safe space for people to discuss and seek help for this problem.’
Visit continence.org.au for information, including videos, on how to do pelvic floor exercises, as well options for further help and treatment.
Anyone can also call the National Continence Helpline on 1800 33 00 66 between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday.
By the numbers
- 80 per cent of those living with incontinence are women.
- One in three women who have ever had a baby live with incontinence.
- Over half of women living in the community with urinary incontinence are aged under 50 years.
- One in three netballers experience incontinence.
- 10% of young women aged 15 to 24 experience incontinence.