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

PH 101 Something’s Wrong with my What?

 

You’ve waited and waited, now finally Pelvic Health 101 is BACK!

On September 20th, 2017 at 7pm we will be kicking off our fall semester of pelvic health education classes. We have a lot planned this year, so get pumped. In our first class we will be introducing you to the pelvic floor muscles, where they are, what they do, and how they relate to the health as well as the function of your bowel, bladder, and sexual muscles and organs. We will also be covering how things such as alignment, posture, muscle tone, and nerves can affect your symptoms. This course is a great starting point to help you understand your pelvic floor and pelvic floor symptoms.

Please join us at our office at:

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY 10017
Register at: pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

Here is our line up of this and future classes:

Pelvic Health 101 Fall 2017

PH101: Ladies Only Session

By: Fiona McMahon, DPT
Hey Ladies!!! In our next installment of our Pelvic Health 101 course, we are hosting a women’s only session to allow for a safe and non-threatening place to discuss many issues that can affect the health of your pelvic floor. This class one of Stephanie Stamas’s (the founder of PH101’s ) favorites and is definitely not to be missed. Join us at 7pm on April 20th, 2017  Please register at pelvichealth-101.eventbrite.com.

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

pelvic-health-101-spring-2017

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

Ryanne Glasper and Melissa Stendahl Expand Their Expertise with Additional Hands on Training!

Melissa Stendahl, PT, DPT

In June, my colleague Ryanne and I had the opportunity to attend the American Physical Therapy Association’s  Gynecological Visceral Manipulation Course, taught by Gail Wetzler, PT, DPT, EDO, BI-D.

Gail is well known for her visceral (organ) mobilization skills and teaching worldwide with Jeanne-Pierre Barral of the Barral Institute. She is a leader in the physical therapy field and in education for women’s health, manual diagnostics, visceral structures and disorders, and integrative therapies for animal health. She is dedicated to techniques to help balance the body’s systems for optimal function. Gail is considered an excellent and sought-after instructor in advanced manual therapy techniques for PTs.

In class, we learned how to assess the  biomechanics and mobility of the pelvic organs (including reproductive organs, the urinary system, and the rectum). We learned  treatment techniques for these structures, and how to integrate these findings and techniques into PT treatment for injuries and disorders affecting posture, core stability, spinal mechanics, and overall movement. Having these skills helps the PT to more successfully and specifically treat pelvic conditions that affect bowel, bladder, reproductive and sexual function. It takes hard work and practice to develop the sensitivity to feel the organs and their potential restrictions, and the PTs at Beyond Basics have all taken advanced training to enhance this skill  because of its importance for our specialty in returning patients to good bowel, bladder, and sexual health and reducing pelvic pain.

We did a detailed anatomy review and excellent hands-on time with lab partners to refine these techniques for our own individual practice! Did you know: neighboring structures “talk” to each other within the body? For example: the liver  is a large organ located within the parietal peritoneum. This peritoneum is a membrane (a thin covering) that wraps around the liver and many other organs in the abdomen. It travels just next to, but does not enclose, the pelvic organs. This membrane becomes neighbors with the bladder, uterus, and rectum. If the liver  is damaged, injured or restricted, the peritoneum membrane enclosing it can tighten in response, kind of like how your arm muscles might tighten up or spasm to help protect you after a shoulder dislocation.  But since the peritoneum is also neighbors with the pelvic organs, this tight restriction at the liver can also result in tension all the way down to the bladder, uterus, or rectum, contributing to urinary or bowel dysfunction or pain! So it may be possible that assessing and treating these lines of tension can help get rid of lingering pain or incontinence, and is a great example of how structures near or even far from the original site of dysfunction can be involved.

So what is a PT really treating when they do “visceral manipulation”? Good question. PTs do not take the place of physicians who specialize in organ function and hormones, like urologists, colorectal, GI or Endocrinologists. But PTs can influence the mobility and positioning of the organs in the abdominal and pelvic cavities, so that they can move and glide as you bend over, run, poop, pee and ovulate, and to reduce inflammation from injuries, or adhesions like scar tissue from surgery. This can be a very valuable treatment option to promote better organ function for digestion, bowel, bladder, sexual and reproductive health.

Link to Gail’s site (https://wetzlerptcenter.wordpress.com/meditate-zen1.jpg

A Fitbit for your Vagina?!

Fiona McMahon, DPT

Elvie

 

For a while you could find me strolling around the clinic with a little fitness tracker on my wrist. I used it to track my steps, sleep, and heart rate. I’m a girl who loves gadgets and apps. From Venmo to Spotify, technology enriches my life and makes it easier. So when Elvie sent their kegel trainer to Beyond Basics, I jumped at the chance to volunteer myself guinea pig, to try out this new fitness tracker.

 

Unboxing, Aesthetics, and Set Up

Man, oh man is the product design gorgeous on this one. It comes in a beautiful silver embossed box with the tagline “ your most personal trainer”  ( wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Inside there is an inch diameter cylinder “vessel” for lack of a better term, which houses the Elvie tracker. The vessel functions as both a carrying case and a charger. It’s pretty slick looking.

The Elvie itself looks like a little tadpole with a tail. It’s about an inch long and half an inch in diameter not counting its little tail. There is also an optional cover provided in the box, which may be more comfortable for some ladies.

The whole set up: The tracker had the feel of opening an iphone, in that the directions provided in the tracker were kept pretty minimal. There was a small pamphlet with cleaning instructions, on charging, how to insert, and exercise. As a pelvic floor physical therapist, I definitely felt that the instructions on how to properly kegel left a lot to be desired. The instructions were literally two bullet points instructing the user not to hold her breath or tighten her buttocks, while she lifts her “pelvic floor”. For many of my patients, I find that they come to me with little knowledge of how to properly kegel or are doing it wrong, “lift the pelvic floor” is rarely a cue that allows for a fully correct kegel.

My next step was to download the Elvie app. I have an iPhone 6. You need a smartphone to run the elvie. They recommend iPhone 5 or later or Android phones running version 4.3 or later. The app download was easy. It was time to get started.

 

Elvie: Day 1

The moment of truth had arrived. Time to insert one of the cuter inanimate objects I had come accross “up there”. “Bye, little guy. Safe travels” I thought as I bid Elvie adieu. Insertion was no problem. For me, it was pretty comfortable, the caveat being, I have a pretty healthy pelvic floor. The one thing I did not like was that Elvie’s tail kept bopping me in the clitoris, which wasn’t very comfortable. Other than that no complaints.

The first thing I did was try and trick Elvie into thinking I was kegeling when I wasn’t (I really want to ensure this thing is fool proof). Elvie is unfortunately a gullible little thing. Bulging my pelvic floor, ( mimicking the action you would do to have a bowel movement, essentially the opposite of a kegel) and thrusting my hips tricked Elvie into thinking I was doing a really good job when I wasn’t. My favorite activity to trick Elvie was to do a little dance around my bedroom, while wiggling my bottom. Thank goodness my doors lock.

But enough goofing off, it was time to give Elvie a good old honest college try. The package recommends either standing or lying to do your kegel exercises, but they say to pick a position and stick with it. I chose lying down.

The minute I got on the bed, Elvie’s connection was lost. Poor Elvie! It was deep inside a strange place with no connection to the outside world. The app instructed me to move my phone closer to my vagina, which restored the connection but was pretty awkward, kind of like my lady parts were trying to facetime someone.

Once I got through the technical difficulties, I loved the way the exercise program was set up. They have 3 different stages that work on pulsing or “quick flicks”, endurance, and pure power. I was mediocre at all three, but it gave me a good start to go with.

Screengrab
Screen grab from the Elvie App

 

Elvie Day 2:

Today was the day I decided to experiment with how distracted one can be while using Elvie. We all like to multitask, so I decided to try it out while continuing my current Netflix binge. It was a bad idea, I missed a lot of my targets and kept forgetting to keep my legs open to allow Elvie to stay connected. It was clear to me that Elvie requires your full attention to get any benefit from it. I did improve on my ability to pulse and my endurance, which was super gratifying.

After I was done with my workout I spent some time exploring the app. Nestled in the “help” section, were much more detailed and helpful directions for performing a correct pelvic floor contraction. I wish this was more easily accessible. I think the lack of concise directions was a major failing of this product.

 

Elvie Day 3:

I decided this would be my last day using Elvie. I run on the tighter side of things, and I know from my clinical experience that doing kegels on an already tight pelvic floor can cause a whole host of issues from constipation, fecal leakage, painful sex, even urgency urinary incontinence!

I decided to give my all out full attention to the vagina workout ahead of me, but first I would try and cheat again. Lying down I tried my old tricks, wiggling my butt, thrusting my hips, but Elvie was not fooled! It appears that lying on your back is a way better way to train your pelvic floor using Elvie.

My last day, I really had the hang of things. I had no connectivity issues and was able to complete the whole workout uninterrupted. The only bummer was that on two of the three measures, I regressed!

 

Thoughts on Elvie

My thoughts on this device are mixed. It is so rare that I see someone walk into the clinic only needing strengthening of the pelvic floor. Usually there is some component of tightness or boney (structural) malalignment that needs to be corrected before kegels can be done effectively or safely.

For those patients who only require strengthening, I think Elvie can make an excellent motivator to regularly do your kegel exercises. I would eliminate the pure power part of the Elvie exercise program. Doing a max contraction of the pelvic floor usually does more harm than good. In a perfect scenario, I see Elvie being used by patients under the guidance of a pelvic floor physical therapist and only doing the “pulse” and “hold” portions of the program. These are patients who have been screened for any tightness or trigger points that may need treatment before starting out with strengthening

 

Pros and Cons of Elvie

 

Cons

  • Not appropriate for everyone
  • Poor connectivity to iphone
  • Not always consistent in measuring a true kegel versus a fake one, especially in standing
  • Requires a later model smart phone
  • Only brief instructions easily accessible
  • Max contraction not very helpful

Pros

  • Charts on the App to track your progress
  • Incredibly adorable product design
  • Much more comfortable than many other biofeedback sensors
  • Structured training program to target many components of muscle function

Pro Tips for Elvie

  • Use Elvie lying down; it’s way more accurate that way
  • Use a water based lube for insertion, silicone lubricants usually don’t mix with instruments designed to go into the vagina
  • If you have pain, Elvie is definitely not for you. Even if you don’t have pain it is wise to consult with a pelvic floor physical therapist to ensure that your muscles are not in fact, too tight and that you are doing the exercise correctly.

Disclaimer: Product was provided by Elvie. No other form of compensation was provided by Elvie for this review.