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Physios overlooked in incontinence management


More than six million Australians live with some form of incontinence and yet the majority – 62 per cent – never seek professional help and physiotherapists are often overlooked.

Jenny Phillips

This is despite evidence that incontinence can be better treated, managed and, in many cases, can even be cured at any age, according to the Continence Foundation of Australia.

The Foundation’s Continence Health in Australia report released this month shows significantly higher prevalence in women who have given birth, people with arthritis, mental health disorders, disabilities, diabetes and men with prostate problems.

Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) continence and women’s health physiotherapist Jenny Phillips says many women keep it a secret for years before asking for help.

“It’s really important for women to know that there is excellent support out there,” Ms Phillips told Community Care Review.

“Women’s health physios in particular can put them at ease while they treat the cause and help them get back to living confidently.”

Various treatment options

Ms Phillips says physios need to undertake a thorough assessment to ascertain causes or contributing factors.

“Depending on the cause, possible treatments include teaching pelvic floor muscle exercises, which need to be done properly, supervised regularly and progressed for best effect,” she said.

“Other treatments could include modification of type and amount of fluid consumed, lifestyle modification, bladder training and teaching how to use the pelvic floor muscles functionally – ‘the knack’ involves switching those muscles on just before sneezing, laughing or lifting.”

Occasionally there may be other factors contributing, for example a prolapse or constipation and the physio can help the patient manage these as well, she says.

During a consultation, a physiotherapist can help by explaining the anatomy of the pelvic region, where the pelvic floor muscles are and how they work.

“Physios can also explain all of the possible treatment options – ranging from doing nothing, conservative management (where the physio comes in) and surgical options. The patient is then fully informed to be able to make a decision about their care.”

Hiding incontinence adds ‘extra suffering’

The Continence Foundation of Australia report shows incontinence can cause serious long-term physical and mental health problems if left untreated.

“Sadly, incontinence is deeply stigmatised, and many consider it a taboo topic,” says the Foundation’s CEO Rowan Cockerell.

“People will go to great lengths to keep their condition a secret if they are able. It adds an extra dimension of suffering to the actual health condition and has been found to lead to social isolation, higher psychological impact and delayed help-seeking.”

As part of the Foundation’s Laugh Without Leaking awareness campaign and World Continence Week celebrations, there are around 2,000 events and displays taking place across Australia.

For more information visit this website.

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