Bladder Health: Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy, Whitefish MT
November is more than just the month of falling leaves, the first snow, and pumpkin everything; it's also Bladder Health Awareness Month! While bladder health may not be a topic that gets as much attention as other health concerns, it plays a crucial role in our overall well-being. So, let's talk about the importance of bladder health and share some valuable insights to help you maintain a healthy, happy bladder.
The Role of Your Pelvic Floor
Before diving into bladder health tips, it's essential to understand the role of your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor is a group of muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues that support the organs in your pelvis, including your bladder, uterus (in females), and rectum. These muscles work together to maintain continence, support these organs, and play a vital role in sexual function. When your pelvic floor is healthy, it can prevent urinary incontinence and support your bladder. If you have a history of childbirth, surgery, broken tail bone, or other trauma all of these can impact your bladder’s function and lead to increased incontinence, urgency, frequency, or pain.
Bladder Health Awareness
1. Hydration Habits (Coffee Tricks)
Proper hydration is essential for overall health, but the amount and timing of your fluid intake can affect your bladder. Try to drink most of your fluids earlier in the day to reduce nighttime bathroom trips. Additionally, be mindful of what you drink. Limit or avoid caffeine, carbonation, and alcohol, as they can irritate the bladder and lead to increased frequency and urgency. There may also be other irritants depending on digestive history, including, citrus, acidic foods (tomato sauce), chocolate, sugar, and dairy.
If you’re a coffee fiend (guilty), you can try less acidic blends or cold brew coffee interspersed with water to decrease any irritation you may feel.
By contrast if you aren’t consuming enough fluid this can increase the concentration of your urine. Meaning, any irritants you do consume are going to feel even more potent. Urine should be pale yellow if you are adequately hydrated.
2. Pelvic Floor Coordination (More Than Just Your Kegels at the Red Light)
Exercising your pelvic floor muscles can help maintain bladder health and support. Pelvic floor exercises strengthen these muscles, improving bladder control and reducing the risk of urinary incontinence. To perform these, squeeze your pelvic floor muscles as if you're trying to stop the flow of urine or hold in gas, hold for a few seconds, and release—fully (this is where most people go wrong). Repeat this several times a day.
Now, let's talk a little bit more about this because if you are doing this seated at a stop light that likely isn’t when you’re having symptoms, and if you have any kind of pelvic pain this may add to symptoms rather than help. The coordination and full range of motion of the pelvic floor is what most people lack, not the strength to do 5-10 repetitions (remember that fall on your tail bone that all these muscles attach to…).
Just like any other exercise if your form, load, and duration are not specific you likely won’t see a change in your symptoms. The pelvic floor has to have the ability to contract quickly (lifting, carrying, jumping, etc.), hold (walking, carrying, exercise, running, etc), and relax (intimacy, toileting, etc). Working on your pelvic floor coordination throughout these activities and bringing more consistent awareness to what your pelvic floor is doing throughout the day can be very helpful.
Then you must factor in if the pelvic floor is overloaded due to core weakness, decreased balance, decreased leg strength…I could go on and on. If this resonates with you follow up with a pelvic health provider for an exam as that will be specific for YOU!
3. Bladder Mobility
Let’s talk about one of the most common causes of long-term symptoms that doesn’t get addressed, scar tissue. This can come from several things, a longer labor/delivery (especially with sunny side up deliveries), C-section scar, chronic constipation, laparoscopic/abdominal surgery, hysterectomy, broken/bruised tail bone, or prostatitis. If the bladder does not have enough room to fill it can increase the sensation of “bladder burn” and urgency as well as discomfort with exams, intimacy, tampon use, etc. Treatment of the abdominal and pelvic structures that surround the bladder to improve its space and ability to move can decrease these symptoms.
By contrast after hysterectomy or removal of a portion of the bowel there is now increased space for the bladder to move into, and you may start to notice more pressure or leakage upon standing after toileting. The bladder now can tilt into that space (bladder prolapse) and cause these symptoms. Utilizing pressure system management, pressure garments, pessaries, constipation management, and strengthening can help to manage these symptoms.
4. Maintaining a Healthy Weight…But Not Too Quickly…
Excess weight can put pressure on your bladder and pelvic floor, leading to increased stress on these structures. This can result in urinary incontinence or an overload (fatigue or lack of coordination) of the pelvic floor. Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet, consistent bowel habits (1-3x/day), and regular exercise can help alleviate this pressure and support your bladder health.
But…here is the kicker. Rapid weight loss can also cause an increase in incontinence! When the body changes habitus really quickly muscles and support structures are now moving at a different range of motion, and therefore will need to coordinate differently. Also, with rapid weight loss you tend to lose muscle mass as well as adipose tissue, consistent strength training and dietary factors will help here.
4. Bathroom Habits
Pay attention to your bathroom habits. Holding in your urine for extended periods can strain your bladder and weaken your pelvic floor muscles. Make sure to respond to your body's signals and visit the restroom when you need to. On the other hand, frequent visits to the bathroom without the need can also irritate the bladder (“I’m going to go to the bathroom before I go to Costco…Just in case.”). Aim for a balance between the two. You should be going to the restroom every 2-3 hours during the day, and 0-1 times per night. A consistent stream for at least 8-15 seconds is also a good indicator if you actually had to go.
Bladder health is an important aspect of overall well-being that often goes overlooked. This Bladder Health Awareness Month, take the time to prioritize your bladder health. If you're experiencing any issues, don't hesitate to seek the guidance of a pelvic floor physical therapist for a plan specific to your history. By taking proactive steps to maintain your bladder health, you can enjoy a happier, more comfortable life. If you are curious what a pelvic health assessment looks like I have written another blog post on my process! Hope this helps! Finally check out my page to learn more about pelvic floor physical therapy, Whitefish MT.