An urgent (bladder) matter

Do you have a problem with your bladder and feel you need to speak to someone about it? To talk about bladder issues is a big deal for many people because it feels very private. But, did you know that 1 in 3 women in Australia have a bladder control problem? Yes, it really is THAT common. This month’s blog aims to release the fear of speaking out about a condition known as bladder urgency, and to show you that help is at hand.

woman with bladder urgency

What is bladder urgency?

Bladder urgency is a sudden, desperate and uncomfortable need to empty your bladder. Imagine walking down the street doing your weekly window shopping and instantly feeling like you have to wee. At this point it’s a frantic scramble to try and find the nearest toilet to avoid having an accident there and then. The feeling can be described as a “busting need to go to the toilet”. This can occur several times a day, and if it does, this need to urinate over and over is known as frequency.

Types of bladder urgency

There are two types of bladder urgency:

  • Dry urgency: You have the sudden urge to urinate and are able to reach the toilet without leaking any urine
  • Wet urgency: You have the sudden urge to urinate and leak urine on the way to, or as you reach the toilet

Dry urgency will commonly go undiagnosed because women who experience it think it is their normal bladder habit, and do not seek the help of a professional. It is those women who have accidents before reaching the toilet (a distressing and often embarrassing experience) who tend to speak up and ask for help.

Causes of bladder urgency

There are many causes of bladder urgency, including:

  • An overactive bladder that contracts when it should not
  • Overactive, weak, or damaged pelvic floor muscles
  • An overly sensitive nervous system (triggered by stress, anxiety, poor sleep and even winter chills)
  • Constipation
  • Low oestrogen levels (commonly associated with breast feeding and menopause)
  • Poor toileting habits
  • Trained family habits extending through generations

A common picture we see in clinic is that of someone experiencing urgency due to an over-sensitive nervous system. A normal bladder can store anywhere between 500-700mls of urine before the brain tells you to go for a wee. In a normal setting, this occurs without the sudden, urgent feeling. With an over-sensitive nervous system, only small amounts of urine collected stimulate nerve endings in the bladder wall, sending messages to the brain to tell the woman to find a toilet… and quick. The bladder (said to be overactive) is unable to fill to its normal levels, and many people will start to develop a pattern of lots of toilet visits, combined with only eliminating small amounts of wee each time. Unfortunately for many women, this can run through the day and night, leading to disturbed sleep patterns, which increases stress and anxiety levels.

Now throw COVID-19 into the equation. The current pandemic is creating a lot of added stress and anxiety for many of us. Here at Physiotherapy for Women, our therapists have noticed a marked increase in cases of bladder urgency presenting to the clinic over the last four months. The pandemic has forced many of us to work from home, providing the convenience of a comfortable toilet nearby whenever needed, leading to poor bladder habits. As you can see, there are many factors at play here with lots to consider for the therapist and patient when implementing treatment.

Treatment

Assessment and treatment of every woman’s bladder issue requires a Physiotherapist who has completed the required post-graduate training in women’s health. The aim is to help each woman develop her own skills in reducing the bladder urge, frequency of urination, and any leakage she may experience. Everyone’s circumstances are different and requires a unique approach for the individual. We have treated many women with bladder control conditions, meaning we know how to work with you to find out what works for you.

Treatment techniques may include:

  • Release of overactive pelvic floor muscles
  • Strengthening and re-training of weak or damaged pelvic floor muscles
  • Stress management
  • Advice on training your bladder habits

Do not let your bladder be the boss of your life. We encourage you to speak up now and side-step the negativity surrounding bladder problems. Call us on 08 8443 3355 to get help from our experienced, highly trained Physiotherapists.

How important are you to yourself?

Hello readers! We trust everyone had a superb festive season. Now that the fun and frolics are over for another year, it’s back to the routine of everyday life… This may mean many of life’s stresses that disappeared temporarily during the Christmas carnage will rear their head again. This can be a bit of a shock to the system and before you know it, you’re immersed in work, family, keeping your home clean and slaving over the hob. But what about you? Where do YOU fit in to all of this? It’s easy to get caught up in life and forget about number one. Here at Physiotherapy for Women, we always ask the question ‘How important are you to yourself?’. Let’s discuss why this is important and what you can do to ensure you make 2020 more about you.

note with positive care messageSelf-care is a vital part of life. We know it’s a bit of a cliché, but if you don’t look after yourself first, how can you look after others, or work, or do anything? You’d be surprised how little time many of our patients spend looking after themselves. It often takes being in pain for someone to realise that something has to give, and change is needed. It’s also regularly the case that someone is stressed, exhausted and moving poorly (and not enough too!), which all play a role in why they have pain. And this is where we ask the questions about self-awareness and attitudes towards themselves.

Let’s give you an example… A working mum comes to us for help with neck and shoulder pain. She has two children, one at school, one at daycare, and her and her partner work a job each. The week is full of running around organising the kid’s drop-offs and pick-ups, working, cooking, cleaning and washing. Weekends are full of kids sports and visiting relatives. Sound familiar? Where is the time for anything else? For many it’s a source of stress in itself. Being time poor is a huge factor in why people fail to look after themselves and end up in pain (and stay there). For this working mum, her pain is now affecting her ability to ‘do’ life. The really hard thing is, something has to give if the cycle is to be broken and for her pain to become a thing of the past. She needs to prioritise self-care and learn that it is OK to spend time on herself. It is pivotal that she does, so she can get back on track ‘doing’ life.

As her physiotherapist, our primary goal is to get her out of pain. Our second goal is to keep her out of pain. And this is where advice on lifestyle, exercise and moving well (and often) comes into play. One of the hardest jobs we have as a physio is educating people on how to change their lives, so they can work towards preventing injury rather than waiting for it to happen and then seeking help. In the case of the working mum, it involves helping her change her attitude towards self-care to ensure she is running at 100%, so she can give everything she needs to her family and work. Some of the topics we might discuss with her and suggest changes to may include:

  • Exercise — a must for all humans. Our important bodily functions rely on us moving regularly. Try taking a walk in the evening once the kids are in bed (get your partner/family member/friend to watch over them). It will allow you to unwind from the days’ events whilst giving your body some valuable movement. Alternatively, reserve one evening in the week or weekend to attend a yoga or pilates class. Or think about what you can do at home (incidental exercise while doing mundane tasks, or a nightly 20 minutes of exercise in the lounge room or on the deck!)
  • Diet — a sticking point for time-poor people, but eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and other nutritious foods will keep your energy levels pumping and ready for everything. Diets high in fast or nutrient poor food will leave you sluggish and tired. Try packing your own healthy lunch and snacks, when you pack your child’s lunchbox!
  • Meditation or mindfulness — a great way to have you time. It only requires 10-15 minutes a day and is a fantastic way to unwind and clear the mind. It takes practice but can be very beneficial to easing stress. We can advise on where to get started.
  • Keep a gratitude diary — every morning when you wake up, immediately write down 5 things you are grateful for. While you can pop it in the ‘notes’ section on your phone, try opting for a pad and paper on your bedside table. It helps give you focus on what’s important to you. This is great motivation for keeping yourself healthy, happy and grateful.

There are many other areas we may discuss with you. We won’t pretend it’s easy to make these changes, but we are here to help guide you through all of it one bit at a time. Our main message here is that whilst we appreciate you have many responsibilities and important things in your life, we would like you to make YOU a high priority. Yes, this is us telling you to read that book, take that bath and take up that hobby you’ve always wanted to! Be important to yourself and make 2020 a year for self-care.

Think Santa this Christmas!

Let’s spell it out loud and clear: SANTA (Straighten up, Active, Neck long, Take breaks, Action)

Take the S for Straighten up:

Good posture decreases our susceptibility to back pain.

Call on the A for Active:

Eating so much over the festive period requires us to be more active. Get outdoors, go for a walk, take a beach or park run with family and friends.

Sound out the N for Neck long:

Constantly looking down at our phones puts enormous strain on our necks and spines. Create ‘no phone’ policy during the festive period, allowing festive gatherings to be true social occasions. When using your phone bring it to eye level, so your neck is long.

Sing out T for Take breaks:

Christmas is always a busy time putting up decorations, wrapping presents and cooking up Christmas feasts. Our spine often feels the constant strain that we place on our bodies. Ask for help so that you are not doing all the tasks at once or on your own. Allow yourself to take frequent breaks.

Finally move the A into place for Action:

Do some simple movements outside of your repetitive movement zone as demonstrated by Santa. The action of arms out or arms up and a knee lift to the bent elbow is so easy.

Thank you, SANTA

Knee pain: The ins and outs of patellofemoral pain

Do you get knee pain? Well this month we are looking at the knee joint and specifically talking about patellofemoral pain. So what does the word patellofemoral actually mean? You can break it down into ‘patello’, which refers to the knee cap, and ‘femoral’ which refers to the long bone (the femur) that runs down your thigh from your hip to your knee (remember, the thigh bone connects to the leg bone, the leg bone connects to the ankle bone, and so on!). The connection between your kneecap and thigh bone is called the patellofemoral joint and we’re going to look at some of the problems associated with this part of the body.

The phrase ‘patellofemoral pain’ is an umbrella term for many causes of pain at the front of the knee. The knee is a complex joint made up of lots of different parts, ranging from the bones that form it, the ligaments that hold the bones together and the various soft tissue parts that form and cross the joint, such as joint capsules, muscles, tendons and fat tissue. All of these (and more) can be involved in pain at the front of the knee.

Knee anatomy

women holding sore knee

The knee can bend and straighten, as well as twist and shear forwards and backwards a little. When our knee is straight, the kneecap, which is held over the knee within the tendon of the quad (thigh) muscles, sits over the end of the thigh bone. As we bend our knee, the surface of the knee cap and end of the thigh bone come closer together and slide over each other in a lovely smooth way, allowing us to perform movements like squatting, jumping, walking and running (basically anything that bends the knee) more efficiently.

What are the causes?

The main causes of patellofemoral pain include overuse of the various parts that make up the knee, or problems that affect the smooth gliding or ‘tracking’ of the kneecap over the end of the thigh bone while moving.

With an overuse issue, think of a person who spends their days walking up and down stairs, or having to squat down constantly. The constant bending and straightening of the knee can lead to overloading of the joint and surrounding tissues, leading to irritation and pain. Another example is that of a runner who may start to get knee pain having recently increased the distance or the amount of days in the week they run.

As we mentioned earlier, the kneecap is held within the quad tendon as it crosses the knee. The quads attach higher up at the pelvis and hips, and down below on the shin bone. So it makes sense that any issue that affects the back, pelvis, hips, ankle and feet can all lead to poor or incorrect tracking of the kneecap over the joint. Common issues here include muscle weakness of the glutes (buttock), quads and lower leg muscles, a twisted thigh or leg bone, and weakness in the ankles and feet, such as having a collapsed arch of the foot. Some people also have a misshapen kneecap, or one that doesn’t sit perfectly over the joint as it should, which can affect the line of tracking over the joint. Throw in having to consider a person’s size and weight, how they walk and run, and the types of footwear they use, and you can see there is a lot to consider.

Unfortunately ladies, this is one of those conditions that affects us more than our male counterparts. Researchers believe this may be because we tend to have wider hips than a man (yep, thanks for that). A woman’s wider pelvis increases the angle where the bones in the knee joint meet. Therefore, leaving more room for imbalance, misalignment or issues moving. Interestingly, research exists that looks into the link between the menstrual cycle and knee pain in women. Whilst the evidence is not 100% conclusive, it is believed that during the different phases of the menstrual cycle, sex hormones can affect the activation of the thigh muscles (quads) and how the body’s nervous system functions during lower limb movement, leaving a woman at potentially higher risk of injury in the knee region. Watch this space… When research catches up, we’ll fill you in on the finer details! What doesn’t break us, makes us stronger eh!

Treatment

So, what can we do to help? Well prevention is key at first:

  • Make sure you’re strong
  • Think about correct knee alignment when walking, running, stair climbing and so on.
  • People within a healthy weight limit also tend to experience less pain.
  • When starting an activity, increase intensity gradually.
  • Always warm up properly.
  • Keep up those stretches!

But if you do have knee pain, it’s best to source help to find out what is going on. Because there can be a variety of reasons for knee pain, there is, of course, a variety of treatments. Here at Physio for Women, we assess all knee pain in a consultation. We figure out what is causing the issue, and help you fix the underlying cause. This could be treatment via massage or other manual therapy techniques, strengthening or stretching exercises, postural alignment work and more.

So, there’s no knee-d to be experiencing knee pain! Come and see us and we’ll get you hopping, skipping and jumping back to normal in no time.

Stress urinary incontinence – what causes it, how to treat it and how to prevent it

Running, sneezing, jumping, laughing – they should be normal activities, but for some women they bring embarrassment or anxiety. Bladder weakness, incontinence and urinary leaking are common problems, especially in women after giving birth or going through menopause. There are many causes of bladder weakness, but today, we’re focusing on one of the most common: Stress urinary incontinence (SUI).

What is stress urinary incontinence?

SUI is where the bladder leaks a small amount of urine during activities that put pressure on the abdomen and push down on the bladder, like coughing, running or laughing.

What causes it?

The bladder

Stress incontinence in women is often caused by pregnancy,

childbirth and menopause. In a quick anatomy lesson, your urethra transports urine from your bladder out of the body, via a muscular structure called the urethral sphincter. The sphincter contracts to hold urine inside your body until you’re ready to go.

During pregnancy and childbirth, your pelvic floor muscles can stretch and weaken. The muscles normally support the urethra, so when they, or the sphincter muscles, are weak, they can’t do their job properly and hold your wee in. During menopause, the female hormone, oestrogen, is produced in lower quantities. Oestrogen helps maintain the thickness of the urethra lining, so sometimes with decreased oestrogen, the lining is affected, and some women experience SUI.

It’s most common with activities such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, walking, running, lifting or playing sport. Other factors that can contribute to SUI include diabetes, obesity, constipation, and a chronic cough (often linked to asthma, smoking or bronchitis).

How to treat it?

Every single person is different, so it’s always best to see your Pelvic floor physio so we can assess you and work out the best treatment plan for you. However, some common treatments we recommend to our patients include:

  • Pelvic floor exercises (see below for more information!).
  • Changes in fluid consumption: This could include drinking certain amounts of fluids at certain times of the day. Or it could involve cutting down caffeine or alcohol to see if they irritate your bladder.
  • Healthy lifestyle changes: Quitting smoking, losing excess weight or treating a chronic cough will decrease your risk of SUI, as well as improve your symptoms.
  • Bladder training: We may recommend a schedule for toileting, depending on the type of incontinence you have. This is more so used when it’s a mix of SUI and another type of incontinence.
  • Manual therapy: You may have some muscular imbalances that are inhibiting your pelvic floor from working properly or are impacting on other parts of your body. We’ll assess you, and then put together a treatment plan, which may include soft tissue massage, other musculoskeletal therapies, strengthening or stretching exercises, or more.

How do I prevent it?

Remember your physios, nurses, doctors, female relatives, mum friends (and the list goes on) telling you to do your pelvic floor exercises or Kegels when pregnant? Well, that’s one piece of advice you should listen to! In fact, it doesn’t matter whether you’re pregnant or not, you should always do your pelvic floor exercises to help strengthen those important muscles. Some basic pelvic floor exercises include:

  • Draw your pelvic floor muscles in and up, like you are trying to stop urinating mid-flow. Hold for 10 secs. Relax for 5-10 secs between each tightening and repeat 10 times. (Don’t actually do your pelvic floor exercises on the toilet – trying to stop while actually urinating can cause other bladder issues)
  • You can add faster pelvic floor lifts to the exercise by holding for 1-3 secs and relaxing for 1-3 secs. Repeat 10 times.
  • Progressing the long holds to 20 secs and then 30 secs may be a goal to reach for.

Try and make pelvic floor exercises part of your routine. For example, do them when you brush your teeth each morning and evening, and when eating lunch. There are also many more exercises to help you, including core exercises such as Pilates.

Pelvic floor exercises should not cause any discomfort or pain. If you have a history of pain with intercourse, vaginal exam or using tampons, or if you have trouble emptying your bladder or starting a wee, you should see a Pelvic Floor Physio prior to starting pelvic floor exercises.

If you’re experiencing urinary leaking, are pregnant, have given birth (at any point in your life!), or if you want help with a preventative program, please come and see us. It is always best to see a Pelvic Floor Physio to get an individual program and to be confident on correctly tightening your pelvic floor muscles. We have helped thousands of women with stress urinary incontinence over the years and would love to help you live a happier, less-anxious life, so you can laugh all you want without having to worry about incontinence!