Acupuncture and Tai Chi as Incontinence Treatments

Jasmine Schmidt Health Guide
  • In my last SharePost I started discussing the use of alternative or complementary treatment for incontinence. While these treatments can be controversial, there are many people who are ready to throw up their hands in frustration because they seem to have run out of traditional treatment options and nothing is working… yet. That’s where alternative or complementary treatments can become useful for those who are interested in pursuing them.

    Because incontinence is a symptom rather than a disease, meaning that it is always caused by something that is not working quite right in the body, I would recommend that you always start treatment by seeing a medical doctor for testing and diagnosis.

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    Acupuncture is currently one of the most widely accepted forms of alternative or complementary treatment. But does it work? Large-scale, long-term studies still need to be performed, but one study in Obstetrics and Gynecology found that acupuncture was effective in treating overactive bladder. According to the researchers, Sandra Emmons, MD and Lesley Otto, MD of Oregon Health and ScienceUniversity, the effects of acupuncture for women with overactive bladder are “similar in scope to the improvement offered by drug therapy or behavioral therapy.” The researchers wrote, “Acupuncture perhaps can offer a middle ground for the appropriate patient who prefers not to take a daily medication but is unable to commit to the active involvement of behavioral therapy.”


    Without sufficient science to either support or negate many alternative therapies, we naturally turn to anecdotal stories. One such story involves a woman trying exercises, dietary changes, and restricting fluid intake for stress urinary incontinence, none of which seemed to yield the desirable results. Finally, a single session of acupuncture did the trick, and now she goes back for another “tune-up” session whenever she feels like she’s starting to leak again.


    While this woman swears by acupuncture for the treatment of stress incontinence, we know that incontinence tends to be a fickle creature, and treatment is not “one size fits all.” Different individuals respond differently to surgery, medicine, and other biomedical or “western” treatments. So it makes sense that this would also be the case with alternative or complementary treatments as well: what works for one will not work for all. The only way to truly determine what treatment will work for you is to review it with your doctor and/or practitioner, and try it.


    As I mentioned before, scientific data regarding alternative treatments is difficult to come by, but I did want to share one other interesting study, which was published in the Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies in January 2000 investigating the efficacy of Tai Chi/ Qi Gong for patients with Multiple Sclerosis. Tai Chi and Qi Gong are traditional Chinese treatments that involve slow and gentle movement with meditation and breathing techniques. The belief is that this practice enhances the flow of qi or chi (both pronounced “chee”), or energy in the body. According to the journal: “This pilot study found that an intervention of six sessions of individual Tai Chi/Qi Gong instruction, supplemented by audio and video teaching aides produced significant improvements in depression and balance across the group as a whole. Specific improvements for individuals were also reported on a range of other symptoms including spasms, numbness, bladder control and walking.”

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    If you’ve found a traditional treatment plan that works for you: congratulations! But if you’re still searching for dryness, some of the studies that do exist, along with anecdotal evidence, are encouraging that perhaps the solution for you is still out there somewhere.

Published On: July 02, 2007