Do you, or anyone you know, continually invest in incontinence products, experience involuntary leakage during physical activities or have back or pelvic pain from giving birth? These symptoms may be caused by pelvic floor dysfunction. The good news is, in the majority of cases, it’s treatable.

The National Institute of Health states that a third of all women develop pelvic floor dysfunction in their lifetimes, including incontinence and/or pain. Additionally, according to the National Association for Continence, 26 percent of women between ages 18 to 59 have urinary incontinence (involuntary leakage of urine). Such was the case with case with Amy, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy.

About the author

John Lopez is the Rehab Services Supervisor for Salem Health West Valley and a licensed physical therapist.

John completed his physical therapist education and training in 1998 at Loma Linda University in southern California, taking staff and leadership roles in various settings including: skilled nursing, comprehensive outpatient rehab facilities, work injury management, and outpatient orthopedics. He is a certified ergonomics evaluator and enjoys furthering his clinical education and practice, particularly in the areas of sports, the spine, and pelvis. He appreciates being a part of a dynamic rehab team that is committed to growing specialized patient care.

He spends his extracurricular time in church activities, exploring the outdoors with his family, and in the gym.

Amy is a mother of three and in her late 40s. Five years ago, she had developed bowel and bladder incontinence associated with exercise and quick movements. She withdrew from social situations to avoid embarrassment. Though once a teacher of fitness classes, she stopped being physically active.

Amy was referred to physical therapy for pelvic rehabilitation, unsure of what to expect. Her therapist talked to her on the phone about the evaluation and treatment of her symptoms.

After a comprehensive evaluation she was found to have: poor posture, significantly underperforming core and pelvic floor muscles, signs of arthritic changes in her left hip and a lack of knowledge about proper diet and daily habits pertaining to her bowel and bladder.

Her therapist detailed the findings with her and shared a treatment plan aimed at returning to her life pursuits. Amy participated in a progressive pelvic floor muscle training program with specialized equipment, under the direct supervision of her pelvic health therapist. She learned about the anatomy and function of her pelvic floor muscles, how to use them correctly and what food and drink items to avoid in order to keep control of her bowel and bladder.

After fewer than three months of committed teamwork between herself and her therapist, she was able to participate in practical daily task simulations to test and train her bowel and bladder control. Graduation time had come as she reported no bowel or bladder leakage with exercise including fast-paced walking and quick changes in position. Most important to her was being able to go out and enjoy a movie with family — without interruption.

With proper care from a specially trained pelvic health physical therapist, Amy’s outcome is not unusual. A 2008 study by the department of gynecology of a university in Brazil showed that patients with stress urinary incontinence (involuntary leakage associated with exercise, sneezing, or coughing) who underwent pelvic health physical therapy clearly improved over a group of patients that did not receive such treatment.

If you or someone you know is experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction symptoms similar to Amy’s, remember that there is specialized care available to help, for males as well. For more information, contact your primary care provider or call West Valley Hospital Rehabilitation Services at 503-623-7305.

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