Strategies to Maximize Activity Levels While Managing Incontinence

Health Professional

It is important that we don't allow incontinence to limit our activity level. I say "allow" because it is a choice. If we pass on opportunities to travel, to exercise, to go to the game or concert, then incontinence begins to take control of our lives. By developing strategies such as use of a pessary device, a urethral plug, and/or compression shorts with an absorbant pad, we are able to continue with the activities we love. This is not only important for maintaining our physical conditioning, but also for our emotional well-being.

Let's take a look at a few of the strategies that may help you continue with an active lifestyle when dealing with incontinence. The first device that works for many is a pessary device. This is a small latex or silicone device, similar to a diaphragm, that you insert into your vaginal canal to give better support to your bladder and/or uterus.   The goal is to hold your bladder in its appropriate position. This takes pressure off of your pelvic floor muscles, allowing these muscles to squeeze tight on the urethra, preventing urine leakage. Your healthcare provider can help fit you for a pessary device that is the right size and shape for optimal performance and comfort. It is up to you and your healthcare provider to decide the length of time you want to leave your pessary in place.

The second device I want to review is a urethral plug. Among the examples of urethral plugs are rubber or silicone plugs that can be inserted and removed from your urethral opening with ease. There are also plugs that are inserted into your urethral opening that work like an inflated balloon. The goal of all the different types, sizes, and shapes of plugs is the same, and that is to temporarily block urine flow out of the urethra between bathroom breaks. Development of more convenient plugs continues to take place as women decide what works best for them. You can talk to your healthcare provider to discuss different options available to you if this is a strategy you may want to use.

The final strategy to control urine leakage and maintain an active lifestyle, is wearing compression shorts with an absorbent pad. This strategy uses a common rehabilitation principle used in physical therapy called proprioception. The compression from lycra or spandex shorts enhances the proprioception of all the muscles of our pelvis and lower abdomen, including our pelvic floor muscles. You have probably seen compression sleeves on knees and elbows of athletes serving the same purpose. The compression improves the efficiency with which our muscles fire to stabilize a joint. I often recommend triathalon shorts to patients because they provide a light biking pad that gives comfortable compression directly to the pelvic floor. The pad can also serve as an absorbent material for light urinary leakage or will serve to hold a heavier pad in place if more protection is needed.   If you haven't tried compression shorts that give good support to the pelvic floor, it is a worthwhile purchase that may get you back on the hiking trail, the walking path, or onto whatever activity you enjoy.

To close this entry, I want to stress that using devices or clothing to help control your incontinence can not stand alone. It is important to consistently work through a pelvic floor strengthening program or you will likely see your incontinence symptoms get worse. Studies have shown that consistently working your pelvic floor muscles can offer improvement to all types of incontinence. Using various strategies to manage your incontinence while consistently working a strengthening and posture program will give you the best opportunity for optimal control of your symptoms.