How to Improve Bladder Health

Bladder

Fiona McMahon, DPT

The bladder, not super complex right? Just a tupperware for pee, holding your urine until an opportune time to go. The bladder is so much more than that, integrating information from the brain, muscles of the pelvic floor, and responding to stretch to efficiently serve its purpose. We never think of the bladder until something goes wrong with it.

In honor of bladder health month, we will be exploring the anatomy of the bladder, what is normal for the bladder, what can go wrong with the bladder, and how to best take care of your precious and hard working bladder.

Bladder Anatomy/ Physiology

 

Male or female, we all have the same basic structure of the bladder, with a few exceptions. Here’s what everyone has in their lower urinary tract.

  • Detrusor Muscle: Forms the body of the bladder and is responsible for squeezing the bladder to empty its contents. It spends most of its time relaxed in order to allow for bladder filling.
  • Trigone Muscle: Forms the neck of the bladder, and is a powerful sensory organ. When the trigone stretches in response to the filling of the bladder, it sends a message to the brain that it’s time to pee.
  • Internal Urethral Sphincter: Smooth muscle (involuntary) which seals off the exit of the bladder and allows for continence.
  • External Urethral Sphincter: Striated or voluntary muscles which also seals the exit of the bladder.
  • Urethra: This is the tube that leads out of the bladder and is the pathway for urine into the outside world.

Sex differences:

Men have a prostate. The prostate is a sex organ and is responsible for keeping the semen at the right pH to fertilize a waiting egg. It wraps around the urethra and lives just under the bladder. It also provides a mechanical buttress or support for the bladder, lessening the load on the pelvic floor.  Because of its proximity to the urethra, problems with the prostate can cause problems with the bladder.  An enlarged prostate, which can be a benign part of aging, cancer, or infection, will restrict the flow of urine out of the urethra, resulting in weak stream, painful, burning urination, and difficulty urinating (the same thing happens with tight pelvic floor muscles). A prostate that has been surgically removed, most often has occurred for treatment of prostate cancer can reduce support for the bladder and lead to leaking. For more information on prostate cancer click here  and for more info on prostatitis, click here!

Another important difference between people with female and male anatomy are the respective length of their urethras. Male urethras are a lot longer than female urethras. This is one of the reasons people with female anatomy are more prone to bladder infections. In a female, bacteria have a lot easier time making the trek to the bladder because of the shorter urethra.

Conditions of the Bladder

Incontinence

Incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine. There are many causes of incontinence. It’s important to know why you are leaking in order to know how to appropriately remedy it. It is possible to have more than one type of incontinence, and when that occurs we call it mixed incontinence.  Let’s go through the types together.

  • Urge incontinence occurs when you leak urine  after a sudden urge to urinate. We call it, lock in key syndrome, because certain events like unlocking the door to your home can cause urge incontinence.  This is the type of incontinence, which should be treated first in cases of mixed urge/stress incontinence.
  • Stress incontinence is the result of pelvic floor weakness that prevents the closure of the external urethral sphincter with activities that increase the pressure on the bladder, like coughing, laughing, lifting or sneezing. Pelvic floor weakness can occur if the muscles and or connective tissues are too loose to create an efficient contraction and more commonly, especially with athletes, too tight or imbalanced, to fully close the external urethral sphincter. Read more about incontinence in athletes here.
  • Functional incontinence occurs when you physically can not get to the bathroom in time to urinate. This is common in the elderly or disabled, who may have trouble ambulating to the bathroom, removing clothing, or transferring from a chair into standing. It is imperative that this type of incontinence is treated aggressively by a physical therapist or occupational therapist as it increases the risk of potentially fatal or disabling falls.

Incomplete voiding

Incomplete voiding is when the bladder does not fully empty.

In a normally functioning patient, volitional effort should not be required to empty the bladder.  A pelvic floor that is unable to relax, will have a smaller opening for urine to pass through or the voluntary muscles involuntarily contract because of muscle spasming, resulting in hesitancy, or incomplete bladder emptying.

Bladder Pain

Pain is our body’s way of telling us there is something wrong. With a new onset of bladder pain, it is important to rule out infection or an organic condition. Often times musculoskeletal conditions or general bladder irritation can mimic bladder infections.  In our practice, we often see patients who had been convinced they had an infection only to find out all of their tests for infection, where in fact, negative and the source of their pain was a tight or shortened pelvic floor.

It is important to understand the character of your bladder pain. Does your bladder hurt as it fills with urine and then feels better only shortly after voiding? If your answer is yes, you may have bladder irritation from urine that isn’t dilute enough (you are not drinking enough water), or you are consuming something irritating like spicy food, caffeine or alcohol. You may also have a condition known as painful bladder syndrome/interstitial cystitis which is contributing to your symptoms. It is important to get a handle on bladder filling pain right away, because it is the first step in treating other conditions such as frequency, urgency, incomplete emptying and retention.

If you have pain and burning during urination with no infection, it is likely the pelvic floor muscles and tissues cannot relax enough to allow urine to flow out without burning, (the pelvic floor also plays a role in bladder filling pain as well). Burning with urination that is not caused by an infection, is treatable with pelvic floor PT.

Frequency:

Everytime I hear someone say “I have a small bladder”, I have the uncontrollable urge to say, “No, you have a sensitive bladder, which can be trained to be better”. Saying you have a small bladder is 95% of the time fatalistic and just untrue. Most bladders, with few exceptions can hold 400-600 mL. Holding capacity can be diminished in cases of constipation, pregnancy and some neurological conditions, but most everyone is working with similarly sized equipment (the exception, being growing children).

Average intervoid interval, aka times between pees, is 2-3 hours, unless you chug a liter of fluid or cups of caffeine in one sitting. An example is being able to make it through James Cameron’s, Titanic, without having to excuse yourself. The trick with the bladder is it’s antsy. It informs you with the first urge to urinate when it is approximately 40% full. Over time, if you listen at that first urge, the bladder will begin to inform you earlier and earlier until you are going once every 20 minutes. Training your bladder to hold more is achieved with ignoring the urge or practicing various behavioral strategies, like deep diaphragmatic breathing with pelvic floor drops, to allow for longer intervals until your bladder capacity is within normal limits. This can be a longer process for those with a more sensitive bladder.

Bladder training is complicated by pain. Pain usually must be treated simultaneously in order to truly get the most benefit from bladder retraining. It is also important to realize that substances like caffeine and alcohol increase urgency and make bladder training more difficult.

How to Manage Bladder Issues:

Fortunately, there is a lot you can do, RIGHT now to manage your bladder symptoms. I find that in my practice and everyday life, there is a certain fatalism about bladder conditions. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard phrases like, “ I just have a small bladder”, “Women my age after babies just leak”, “I am older so I pee more at night” and “it’s always been like this”. The bladder is a trainable organ and the muscles influencing it can be stretched and strengthened like any other muscle in the body. The best part is there is so much you can do for yourself at home. It’s totally worth trying and in many cases is a life changer.

Diet and fluid intake:

It may sound counter intuitive, but drinking plenty of water is good for almost all bladder conditions. Yes I am talking about leaking, urgency, incomplete emptying and frequency. Drinking lots of water keeps your urine nice and dilute, minimizing the irritation of the bladder wall as well as the reactive spasm of the detrusor muscle. You should drink approximately half your bodyweight in ounces of water a day. For example: a 150 lbs person should consume 75 ounces of water a day. You should increase this amount if you are exercising, or experience a lot of sweating or drink a lot of caffeine and or alcohol, which are both dehydrating. It is also important to be mindful of bladder irritants which can worsen bladder issues. Big irritant culprits are alcohol, caffeine, citrus, and spicy food. In children, dairy milk is a common bladder irritant.  Keep in mind that one person’s bladder irritant may not be your bladder irritant. It’s easy to look at lists of bladder irritants and get overwhelmed. Try eliminating a suspected offender for two to three days. If you feel better when you aren’t consuming that item and worse when you add it back in, consider eliminating that item from your diet.  It is also important to eat in a way that prevents constipation, as this worsens bladder symptoms and puts extra pressure on the bladder.

Posture

If you are having problems fully emptying your bladder or you have post void leakage ( dribbles following going to the bathroom) consider your toileting posture. People with bladder issues should sit on the toilet ( even dudes), to allow the pelvic floor muscles to relax and allow the bladder to fully empty.

Bladder Training

If you have bladder frequency or leakage  now is the time to try and train your bladder to hold more urine. Keep in mind you should start treatment to address pain with physical therapy and in certain cases, with medication, to allow you to be successful with bladder training. I always tell my patients to start their bladder retraining at home, where a bathroom is available to take the stress out of possible leaks or not being able to find a bathroom. Start by simply waiting to go to the bathroom 5-10 minutes past your first urge to urinate. Use behavioral strategies, such as deep breathing and pelvic floor drops, mindfulness, distraction and others.  If you don’t have to go after 5-10 minutes, Great! If you do, go to the bathroom. As waiting 10 minutes becomes easy, stretch your time to 20 minutes and so on until you are able to go 2-3 hours in between urination.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is considered a mainstay and top treatment for musculoskeletal causes of bladder disorders and bladder pain.  Expert pelvic floor physical therapists are clinicians who can find the cause of your bladder issues and provide you with a customized plan that will provide you with the best results possible. PT’s can work to relax spasmed muscles, treat constipation contributing to bladder issues, improve your toilet posture, reduce tightness around the bladder, abdominal and thigh region that can contribute to bladder dysfunction, as well as strengthen weak muscles. If you are experiencing bladder issues, please come see us.  There is so much we can do to help!

Sources:

Berghmans L, Hendriks H, Van Waalwijk, et al. Conservative treatment of urge urinary incontinence in women: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials. BJU Int. 2000; 85: 254-63

Chancellor, M, Yoshimura N. Neurophysiology of stress incontinence. Rev Urol. 2004; 6(Suppl3)S19-S28

Chang H, Lynm C, Glass R, et al. Urinary incontinence in older women. JAMA, 2010; 303(21): 2208

FitzGerald M, Brensinger C, Brubaker L, et al. What is the pain of interstitial cystitis like?. International Urogynecology Journal Including Pelvic Floor Dysfunction. 2005

Shafik A, Shafik I. Overactive bladder inhibition in response to pelvic floor muscle exercises. World J Urol. 2003 May; 20(6):347-7. Epib. Apr 4

May is Pelvic Pain Awareness Month

Mayis PelvicPainAwarenessmonth

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

May is Pelvic Pain Awareness Month: #PelvicPainAware. This is a big deal to us at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, where we see it as our mission to spread awareness of pelvic pain and dysfunction to clinicians and patients alike. This month is spearheaded by the International Pelvic Pain Society (IPPS), of which, the founder of Beyond Basics, Amy Stein is the president. Amy took time to sit down with me to describe all of the fantastic things that are planned for this month so I can share them with you.

Before we get started, I want to share a little about IPPS, the organizer of Pelvic Pain Awareness Month. IPPS was founded in 1996. It is a society of healthcare clinicians who treat abdomino-pelvic pain conditions in men, women, and children. Their mission is twofold: “To educate healthcare professionals how to diagnose and manage chronic pelvic pain, thereby changing the lives of patients worldwide.” and “To bring hope to men and women who suffer from chronic pelvic pain by significantly raising public awareness and impacting individual lives.” Pelvic Pain Awareness month, is our opportunity to spread awareness among professionals and public alike in hopes of improving outcomes and demystifying pelvic pain.

Now let’s get started with Amy’s interview!

Fiona: Why did IPPS feel the need to start a pelvic pain awareness month?

  • Amy: I felt like it was needed. As president of IPPS, I wanted to make some changes to awareness, and I felt this was a great opportunity to get the word out and stop patients from having to suffer in silence. I wanted it to be abdomino-pelvic pain awareness month, but the phrase was too long.

 

Fiona: What activities does IPPS have planned this month to spread awareness of pelvic pain?

  • Amy: We created a pelvic pain awareness page on facebook and continue to tweet about it @intpelvicpain. We are also doing a blog talk radio interview with Lorimer Moseley, PhD, PT from Adelaide, Australia, on blogtalk radio/pelvic messenger on Thursday, May 18th at 7.30pm EST. Lorimer Moseley has written 270 articles and 6 books on pain. If you want to interview someone who is experienced in the study of pain and the brain, he is a good person to be interviewing. May 17th in New York City, we are doing a local fundraising/ networking event in the Green Room on 23rd street from 6:30-8:30pm to create more awareness locally. On may 25th, 9pm EST, 6pm PST we are doing a twitter journal club. An article on sexual health in women affected by cancer  will be featured, as well as one on vulvodynia, and prostatitis . [Click here to access the articles we will be discussing!] Each year we plan to add on more events for May is #PelvicPainAware both locally and internationally. 

 

 

Fiona: Why is it so important to build awareness of abdomino-pelvic pain conditions? What was the big driver for IPPS in doing this work?

  • Amy: Bringing awareness of abdomino-pelvic pain conditions is one of the main missions for IPPS, as well as Beyond Basics Physical Therapy and I believe it is a mission of many of other clinics, hospitals, etc, that treat pelvic pain. Again, it is such a common experience of many, many patients who visit us, to have gone to various well-known institutions throughout the country for pelvic pain, to be told it is all in there head and that they just need mental health therapy or a glass of wine. This infuriates me STILL (20 years later!), as well as the patients. Often times it will take just one session with an experienced pelvic health physical therapist or healthcare provider to have hope again. Many of our patients have been to 5 up to 10 physicians/healthcare providers and ended up being misdiagnosed, undiagnosed, or told to go home and relax; or even worse, have more sex or switch partners. Yes, pain is processed in your brain, but there is a physical component with most of these patients.

Fiona: Where would you suggest someone who is starting their journey? What resources would you recommend?

  • Amy: I would suggest to look at International Pelvic Pain Society, International Cystitis Association, IC-network, Endometriosis Association, National Vulvodynia Association, American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) or Herman and Wallace “ Find a provider”, for you to find physical therapists and physicians. Even taking that a step further, when you find a provider, do some research: ask how often your provider sees pelvic pain patients,, how long have they been treating in this area, because that can make a difference. If you go to someone who is not as experienced or is not trained, you might hit a roadblock or plateau in your progress.
  •  I would caution against looking up too much on patient-centered forums; however, here are a lot of great blogs out there that can help give you helpful information. There are some great books out there, like Heal Pelvic Pain, and Pelvic Pain Explained, Sex without Pain, and Pelvic Pain Management.  For providers, I want to add that IPPS is hosting the World Congress on Pelvic and Abdominal Pain in Washington D.C. at the Renaissance Hotel in October 11-15th. We have Lorimer Moseley and Paul Hodges flying in from Australia. They both have done extensive research in pain. This year we are doing 9 clusters on different topics with poster and abstract presentations, as well as a post conference on The Pain Revolution, with Paul Hodges, PhD and Lorimer Moseley, PhD, PT

Fiona: If you had to distill your message for May is Pelvic Pain Awareness month, what would you like the public, people with and without pelvic pain to get from this month?

  • Amy: I would like them to know there are resources and providers out there for abdomino-pelvic pain conditions. But remember to do your homework when deciding who and what is best for you. For providers, there are great resources too, including the International Pelvic Pain Society to help better your practice.

We also want everyone to know we are having a give away in honor of Pelvic Pain Awareness Month! Learn more info below!

For Everyone!

IPPS Facebook Page

Twitter: @IntPelvicPain #pelvicpainaware

IPPS

Blog Talk Radio/Pelvic Messenger

 

For Patients!

International Pelvic Pain Society: Find a provider

National Vulvodynia Association: Health Care Provider List

APTA Find a clinician

Herman and Wallace Find a Clinician

 

Give Away Information

Giveaway open internationally ). Must provide a mailing address within 48 hours of notification of winning, otherwise another winner will be selected at random. Click here for full details,
We have several generous donors lined up for the hour and will be randomly giving away the following items during the event:
1 Copy of Amy Stein’s Book “Heal Pelvic Pain” & DVD Healing Pelvic and Abdominal Pain”  (follow @beyondbasicspt @HealPelvicPain2)  (Open to International)
1 Copy of Heather Jeffcoat’s book “Sex Without Pain: A Self Treatment Guid to the Sex Life You Deserve” (follow @SexWithoutPain @TheLadyPartsPT) (Open to International)
1 Copy of Stephanie Prendergast and Elizabeth Rummer’s book “Pelvic Pain Explained”   (follow @PelvicPainExp @PelvicHealth) (Open to International)
1 Gift Card to Soul Source Dilators (link to soulsource.com)  (follow @SoulSourceTD) (Open to US only)
2 EndoFemm heating/cooling pads by Pelvic Pain Solutions (Open to US only)
2 CAPPS Travel Cushions by Pelvic Pain Solutions by Pelvic Pain Solutions  (follow @EndoFEMM) (Open to US only)
2 Multi-Comfort Therapy Pads by Pelvic Pain Solutions (Open to US only)
Official Rules: This giveaway is open to US only (except where specifically indicated as international above). The following guidelines must be followed to be eligible: Use the #PelvicPainAware hashtag during the twitter party from 6PM PST to 7PM PST to be entered into the random drawing. Must follow @IntPelvicPain @TheLadyPartsPT so we may contact you after the event regarding your winnings. Winners will have 48 hours from the time of notification to provide us with their eligible mailing address, or else a new winner will be randomly selected.
 
Twitter Party/Journal Club Disclaimer: Tweets during the 1 hour event are not to be taken as medical advice. We recommend following up with your team of providers to gain your most optimal care.

 

BPPT Health Tip: Best Positioning Tips for Optimal Bowel Movements

By Sarah Paplanus, DPT, PT

Are you among the 4 million Americans who suffer from constipation? Or the 1 in 5 American adults with Irritable Bowel Syndrome? Do you occasionally experience the pain and itchy feeling associated with hemorrhoids? If so, the Squatty Potty or similar stool may be the perfect addition to your bathroom! Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with any of these conditions, it is important to note that straining or holding your breath to complete a bowel movement is never normal and is usually a sign of dysfunction. Colorectal medical conditions can vary in their cause, in their presentation and in their severity, but your pelvic floor muscles will always be affected.

null( Image via: squattypotty.com )

Anatomy!

 

Your colon carries waste out of your body, and where the colon meets your rectum is called your anorectal angle. This anorectal angle is an important factor in continence.

Your pelvic floor muscles work together to support the rectum, change the anorectal angle and control opening/closing. One of your pelvic floor muscles (the puborectalis) forms a sling around your rectum and works to maintain the anorectal angle. If that muscle is tight, it can essentially “choke” your rectum and contribute to straining.

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What does squatting do?

Squatting straightens the anorectal angle and helps to relax the puborectalis muscle, which helps to facilitate emptying. It also decreases the amount of pressure in the abdomen, which has been shown to decrease the time and effort needed for defecation. This all helps to reduce excessive pressure and strain on your pelvic floor muscles. In cultures where squatting is still prevalent for defecation, such as parts of Asia and Africa, it has been found that bowel movements tend to be more complete and that there is a decreased incidence of colorectal dysfunctions such as hemorrhoids, constipation and hernias.

Why is straining bad?

A principle of elementary mechanics states that “any system exposed to excessive pressures ultimately sustains injury”.These injuries can be in the form of a hemorrhoid, a hernia, a muscle strain or a chronic pelvic floor dysfunction. Straining also increases your risk of the Valsalva maneuver, which is exhaling against a closed airway. This causes a sudden increase in intra-abdominal pressure which can cause abrupt changes in blood pressure.

Toilet Posture

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Using a squatty potty, stool, or even two yoga blocks can help you assume a “squat” position. Lean forward and rest your elbows on your knees. Take deep breathes in, using your diaphragm. Place your hands on your belly and feel your breathe fill up your abdomen. Keep your mouth open and jaw relaxed!

Other Strategies to Improve Bowel Health

  • Cardiovascular exercise
  • Proper nutrition (see our previous post on fiber!)
  • Make sure you are drinking enough water
  • Relaxation training, diaphragmatic breathing

 

What to do if you are still suffering?

If the above tips are not helping defecate regularly and comfortably, you may be suffering from pelvic floor dysfunction. Pelvic floor dysfunction can occur when the muscles of the pelvic floor become too tight, weak, or both to do their job properly. Physical Therapy can help! Visit us at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy to help better your BM’s.

Spring Pelvic Health 101 is Coming

Fiona McMahon, DPT, PT

Pelvic Health 101 is back with some old favorites like, “Something’s wrong with my what?” and “Why is pooping so difficult?” We have also added a new course on pediatric pelvic floor issues.

If you have questions, we have answers. Join us for lectures and question and answer opportunities with expert pelvic health physical therapists, childbirth educators, and nutritionists. Please reserve your spot early at pelvichealth-101.eventbrite.com. Remember spots fill up quickly. As always, light refreshments will be served.

pelvic-health-101-spring-2017