Episodes of bowel incontinence can leave you feeling anxious and impact your self-confidence. This is a problem that affects both men and women and is usually caused by muscle weakness or damage to the anal sphincter muscles. These are the muscles that engage when you try to hold off having a bowel movement, and they are located directly under the pelvic floor muscles. Weakness and damage are typically caused by childbirth, rectal surgery or prolonged periods of straining to empty your bowels.
Physiotherapy can help you regain control of your bowels by teaching you how to engage, strengthen and co-ordinate the various groups of muscles, including abdominal, pelvic floor and anal sphincter, that play a role in bowel control.
Assessing Muscle Damage And Weakness
During your first appointment, the physiotherapist will take details of your symptoms and health history. They will then examine the relevant muscle groups, and this will usually involve an internal exam and test called anorectal manometry. This is a painless test that involves a small sensor being placed in your back passage. The sensor is linked to a computer and takes readings of the reflexes, pressure and strength of your sphincter muscles. The results of this test will help the physiotherapist to determine how weak your muscles are and what types of exercises will be required to strengthen the muscles.
Treating Incontinence With Physiotherapy
The physiotherapist will formulate a treatment plan that includes dietary modifications and targeted exercises, such as Kegel exercises, and these will need to be done several times a day for maximum benefit. Your physiotherapist will give you an exercise sheet and show you how to do each exercise correctly. They may use biofeedback therapy to ensure you are engaging the correct internal muscles when doing the recommended exercises. Biofeedback electronically monitors your muscles' response as you carry out your exercises and can help you become aware of where muscles are that are normally engaged automatically and subconsciously.
Your physiotherapist may ask you to keep a food and symptoms diary to establish if there's a link between your diet and episodes of incontinence. Caffeine can speed up the time it takes food to travel along your digestive tract, so cutting this out can reduce incontinence for some sufferers. Adding more fibre to your diet can bulk up your stools, and firm stools are easier for your rectal muscles to hold on to. Stick to soluble fibre, which is easier to digest and doesn't irritate the lining of your intestines the way insoluble fibre can. Fibre supplements, such as psyllium husks, can also be used to slow down your bowels.
If you're experiencing bowel incontinence, rest assured you can speak to your physiotherapist about it in confidence. They will be happy to answer any questions you have about treatment before you go ahead, so book a consultation and tackle this treatable problem, today.