There are many cures for urinary incontinence and not all of them are obvious, like drinking more water, which seems counterintuitive. But water dilutes the liquid in your bladder and prevents incontinence-causing irritation. You can also strengthen your pelvic floor muscles by pulling them upwards rather than squeezing them in, as if you’re sucking a smoothie through a straw. Here are some more cures for incontinence you might not have tried.
Ditch the High Heels
“The foot is a big player in pelvic dynamics,” says Claire Mockridge, a fitness instructor who focuses on body biomechanics. “Humans haven’t changed that much physiologically since our hunter-gatherer days when our ancestors didn’t wear shoes—so, technically, we’re not supposed to wear them.”
Flat shoes, however, give our feet greater opportunity to articulate across the floor, Claire explains. “The way you walk creates an impact that travels all the way up the leg to the hip and beyond. If you think of it as a chain, the ankle sits on top of the foot, then comes the knee, then the hips, shoulders, and ears.”
If your body is in perfect alignment, this chain forms a vertical line. “Your center of mass is your pelvis, and the pelvic weight should ideally sit directly above the heel. Yet when the heels are raised off the floor, this weight is thrust forward onto the ball of the foot, making it impossible to stand upright in that vertical line.”
Most women compensate by tucking their tailbone under, which leads to a passive shortening of the pelvic floor muscles. “As the muscles are attached to both the sacrum and pubic bone, a posterior tilt makes them hypertonic.”
What’s more, tight muscles are weak muscles. “You need length to build strength,” says Claire, “Strengthening and activating the glutes helps to create that length in the pelvic floor, but that’s something else you can’t do in heels.”
Curb the Crunches
Holly Spence suffered a bladder prolapse after childbirth. As a Pilates and hypopressives instructor, she knew she would need to focus on rebuilding her core strength as well as her pelvic floor muscles. What she didn’t expect was to focus more on her breath than her belly.
“I began practicing a technique called hypopressives or low-pressure fitness, a breathing technique that tones the deep abdominals and pelvic floor muscles. It’s also an excellent alternative to ab curls or crunches, which aren’t great for postpartum recovery.”
“When you do a curl or crunch, pressure inside the abdomen increases. This can create downward pressure on the pelvic floor muscles—and if they’re not strong enough to withstand this pressure, it can impair function.”
Hypopressives reduce this pressure and they’re also much easier to teach. “Take a couple of full diaphragmatic breaths. At the end of the second exhalation, hold your breath, close the back of the throat, and expand your ribs as if you’re taking in air—except you don’t let any enter. This naturally creates a vacuum that decreases pressure in the abdominal cavity and lifts the pelvic floor muscles.”
It’s best to practice this technique in different postures for best results, advises Holly, and preferably with a trained instructor. “Do it standing up, sitting and kneeling so you can challenge your pelvic floors in all of these positions and build a more functional pelvic floor.”
Put a Pin in It
Sandra Bird practices acupuncture in the style of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which aims to target the root of any problem, including incontinence. “There are many different reasons why women experience leaks,” she says, “This is why TCM looks at the whole picture of your life, rather than focusing on what seems to be the problem area.”
Sandra works with energy meridians that form a road map throughout the body. Each carries your qi, or life force, from organ to organ (like the oxygen carries blood). In simpler terms, the energy meridians follow the same pathways as the endocrine system, and acupuncture can trigger the hypothalamus and the release of hormones such as estrogen, which helps to prevent pelvic floor atrophy.
“The main organ associated with incontinence (apart from the bladder) is the kidney, which controls water in the body,” adds Sandra. “The spleen also impacts the strength of the pelvic floor muscles. I would therefore look for ways in which energy supply to these organs was being depleted.”
This could be through any number of lifestyle choices, such as working too much or not sleeping enough. “Medical professionals speak of homeostasis and the idea that the human body will heal itself in the right set of circumstances—acupuncture helps to create those circumstances.”
“TCM is all about nourishing life rather than waiting until you’re ill to take care of yourself. Don’t wait until incontinence gets serious before you do anything about it. It’s much easier to treat in the early stages—just like it’s easier to do pelvic floor exercises when your muscles still have strength.”