How to Improve Bladder Health

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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 this blog, 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:

People with male anatomy 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”, “People 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

PH101: Running to the Bathroom Again?!

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT

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via Pexels

Bladder problems can be vexing, it may hurt for you to pee even though every test for infection you’ve taken has come back negative. You may find yourself incontinent after surgery or childbirth, or for no reason at all. You may find yourself waking up countless times to go, or needing to memorize every bathrooms’ location in the city because you go too often.

The bladder and the pelvic floor are intimately related and often times problems with the pelvic floor can cause real trouble with the bladder. Pelvic floor dysfunction can cause you to suffer from bladder frequency, urgency, incomplete emptying, slow stream, stream that stops and starts, bladder or urethral pain, or leaking.  By the way, it’s not just a female issue. Men and children can also have these symptoms. Learn from one of our experts, Sarah Paplanus, about how exactly the pelvic floor is related to bladder function and dysfunction, what you can do about it, and about common medical conditions affecting the bladder. Join us for this great seminar on March 26th at 7pm . Register here: pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com

And for those who can’t wait to learn about the bladder, check out our blog on bladder health here!

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Spring 2019

PH 101 Something’s Wrong with my What?

 

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

On March 19, 2019 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 Spring 2019

 

Pelvic Floor Myth Busters! Does Holding in Your Pee Cause UTI’s?

Fiona McMahon PT, DPT (Pronouns: She, Her, Hers)

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I love the TV show Mythbusters, I have for the last 15 years, (yes ladies, gents it has been on for that long). If you aren’t familiar with this show, the hosts Adam and Jamie try to prove or disprove popular myths like, is shooting fish in a barrel easy? Spoiler alert: yes, but maybe not in the way you think it is. I’ll let you look that one up on your own. I loved how this show took everyday assumptions and applied real science to see if they were indeed true. In the same spirit of my beloved show, we are going to try and bust some pelvic floor myths. Since I don’t have the funding or ethical review board to conduct large-scale experiments on pelvic floor questions, I am going to the next best (albeit, slightly less glamorous thing) and see what I can find on PubMed, while applying known pelvic floor science to the question. Most of us have probably been told that holding in your pee for a long time can cause urinary tract infections (UTIs), but is it actually true? Can peeing at every single urge cause other problems? Through gathering the available evidence we will look at this time old axiom to determine whether it is true or false.

What is a UTI (Urinary Tract Infection)

A UTI occurs when bacteria colonize or grow in your urinary system, which is composed of your bladder, urethra, ureters, and kidneys. Usually, we see these infections in the bladder. Women tend to get UTIs more often at an 8:1 ratio to their male counterparts. This is because the male urinary system has a substantially longer urethra, as well as the fact that the female’s urethral position makes it vulnerable to bacterial colonization in women who have penetrative vaginal sex. Although it is more common for adults to contract UTI’s, children can too. UTI’s in children can be an indicator of possible bladder conditions, such as vesicoureteral reflux (when urine seeps back into the upper part of the urinary system and can cause infections in the kidneys). Any bladder infection in children should be followed up by imaging to rule this condition out. Untreated reflux can be harmful to the kidneys. Much of the literature I reviewed pertains to women with UTIs but it is possible to apply some of this information to males. That being said, at least half of women will report a UTI at some point in their lifetime.

We can further classify UTI’s by how often one contracts them. Recurrent UTI is defined as 3 positive cultures in 12 months or 2 positive cultures within 6 months. Uncomplicated infection occurs in people who have a normal urinary tract, whereas a complicated infection occurs in individuals with complications in the urinary tract, such as vesicouretral reflux.

Known Risk Factors for UTI

Our main question is, “does holding pee cause UTI’s?”, but what things do we absolutely know are risk factors for UTIs? First thing is having a female urinary tract. The female urethra (where the pee comes out) is shorter than the male’s, making it easier for UTI causing bacteria to get a foothold and cause infections. Along those lines, having receptive vaginal intercourse can make you more prone to get a UTI because objects inserted into the vagina can introduce bacteria to the urethra, which live nearby each other. Pregnancy, diabetes, and immunosuppression have also been shown in the literature to increase the chances of getting a UTI. Being post-menopausal can also increase your risk of developing a UTI as it may thin the tissue of the vulva and make it easier for bacteria to get to the bladder. Other factors include the use of spermicides, catheterization (both indwelling and intermittent), wiping back to front (ladies), diaphragm use, or incomplete bladder emptying (guys and gals, we will discuss this in detail below).

But Does Holding Your Pee Cause UTIs???!!!!!

Yes… and no. The data out there is pretty darn sparse, and what I’ve read has not provided any clear-cut studies examining the issue. Keep in mind it’s a pretty hard experiment to design to prove that holding your pee can cause UTIs. Peeing as a preventative to reduce UTIs works by flushing out the urethra, but you need a good amount of liquid (however don’t force or push out your pee) to clean it out. This is why I advise and will continue to advise patients to pee after intercourse. It flushes everything out.

Now, that being said, if you are peeing too frequently, and only a little bit comes out at a time, you may not be effective in cleaning out your urethra fully. Normal bladder frequency should be about once every 2-3 hours and that is if you drink 7-8 glasses of fluid a day (if you drink less than that then frequency will be less). And, obviously, things will pick up a bit if you’ve had a bunch to drink, (water or otherwise), but that’s the average. Another way to tell if you are on track is if you are peeing for 8-10 seconds (real “one-Mississippi” seconds) and it is a strong, consistent stream. If you train yourself to pee when you don’t have a large amount of pee in the bladder, you could actually be training your bladder to be more frequent, which can be a problem.

What if when you are peeing, you have to strain and only have a dribbly stream and not a lot comes out? This is a problem that could lead you to get UTIs. It is called incomplete emptying. Incomplete emptying happens when the bladder does not empty properly. Because of this, urine is not expelled out of the urethra at a rate that is sufficient to clean out the urethra and that means bacteria may have an easier time getting to your bladder. Symptoms of incomplete emptying can include post-void dribble, having to strain to pee, and or feeling like you have to pee again shortly after your first attempt to pee.

Does Pelvic Floor Health Have Anything to Do with UTIs

It can. Also, problems in the pelvic floor can commonly mimic symptoms of UTIs (burning with urination, frequency, urgency, etc.,.). The pelvic floor is a group of muscles between the tail-bone and the pubic bone, and they surround the urethra, bladder, anorectal opening, and genital region. For people with incomplete bladder emptying, a tight pelvic floor may be playing a role. The pelvic floor has many functions, but one of its functions is to open and close the doors (sphincters) that hold pee in and let it out. If the pelvic floor is tight, it’s hard for the muscles to relax and for the pee to exit. More importantly, when the pelvic floor is held in tension it prevents the detrusor (bladder squeezer muscle) from emptying the bladder well.

Additionally, tight pelvic floor muscles, specifically in the urogenital diaphragm layer (the superficial pelvic floor muscle layer), can feel a lot like a UTI when they are tight. Some women will experience irritation in this area after intercourse, which can feel a lot like a bladder infection. Women who repeatedly test negative for UTI’s but have symptoms could have pelvic floor dysfunction! It’s wild, I know.

Bladder Tips for us All

Wash yourself and your partner before sex

If you have a vagina, wash it with water before getting it on. The fact of the world, is we are covered in bacteria, if you wash your vagina and vulva before anything goes in it, you lessen the chance of bacteria getting pushed into your urinary tract. Your partner should also wash his or her fingers, toys, or penis as well to avoid infection. Using a USDA organic mild soap with no extra ingredients or additives is best.

Pee After Sex!

Pee after sex. It is so important. It’s better to have a bladder that’s more full than not, so you can clear out that urethra, but regardless try and pee relatively soon after having sex.

Wipe Front to Back

Please excuse me for being indelicate, but if you wipe back to front (anus to vagina), you are helping to drag poo bacteria up towards the urethra, which is something we definitely don’t want to do while we are trying to prevent UTI’s.

Test your Urine

If you have symptoms of a UTI, get yourself to the doctor, nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant, etc. He or she can see if you really do have an infection. The importance of this is two-fold. To nab an infection before it gets worse or goes to your kidneys, and to make sure you actually have an infection, not pelvic floor dysfunction. Making sure you get your urine tested also ensures you won’t have to take unnecessary antibiotics which can negatively affect yeast and gastrointestinal symptoms.

 

If you have symptoms and no infection or trouble emptying your bladder, come to physical therapy!

UTI symptoms that aren’t a UTI are often caused by pelvic floor dysfunction. A skilled pelvic floor physical therapist will be able to assess whether or not your pelvic floor is playing a role in what you are feeling. A skilled pelvic floor physical therapist will assess whether or not you can open and close your pelvic floor well in order to pee effectively as well as checking the pelvic floor for tightness and for any nerve irritation. If there is something not working well with your pelvic floor, your therapist will partner with you to help treat it and get you feeling better. You will be equipped with a home program and behavioral modifications to ease the bladder symptoms so you can go back to a pain and symptom-free life!

Wanna bust more myths?! Good, we’re working on that!

Wanna learn more about the bladder?! Be patient! We’re cooking up a brand new blog with everyday tips to help you better manage your pelvic symptoms! Stay tuned!

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Fiona McMahon is currently seeing patients at our Midtown Location

 

If you have questions about orthopedic, pelvic, or sports physical therapy, BBPT is offering free phone consults to those living in the greater NYC area for a limited amount of time!

Beyond Basics Physical Therapy

212-354-2622 (42nd Street Location)

212-267-0240 (William Street Location)

Al-Badr A, Al-Shaik G. Recurrent Urinary Tract Infections Management in Women. A Review. Sultan Quaboos University Med J. 2013(13) 359-67

Scholes D, Hootman T, Roberts P, et al. Risk factors for recurrent urinary tract infection in young women. J Infect Dis. 2000;182:1177-82

PH101: Running to the Bathroom Again?

toiletFiona McMahon PT, DPT

Do you find yourself with a full map of every public restroom along your daily commute in your head? Do you find yourself competing for the aisle seat at movies so you can sneak away to the bathroom? Does it hurt to go? Do you get up multiple times a night? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this week’s Pelvic Health 101 is for you.

On Wednesday, September 27, at 7pm, join Stephanie Stamas, physical therapist at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, for all of the ins and outs of bladder health. Learn how the bladder works, common bladder disorders, and practical tips for helping your bladder symptoms. Light refreshments will be served.

Register at pelvichealth101.eventbrite.com  today.

Location

110 East 42nd Street, Suite 1504

New York, NY

10017

Pelvic Health 101 Fall 2017

Bladder Chatter

By Riva Preil

The School of Pelvic Health returns tonight, Tuesday October 21, 2014 (7:00 PM) with a fascinating class entitled Running to the Bathroom, Again!  Stephanie Stamas, physical therapist at Beyond Basics Physical Therapy, will discuss the urinary system’s anatomy and physiology.

She will then explain what happens when this system is not functioning properly, and she will elaborate upon urinary urgency (“I have to go and I have to go NOW!”), urinary frequency (constant feeling of needing to urinate, even if one has recently done so), and urinary incontinence (involuntary loss of urine).  Stephanie will explain the differences between the various types on incontinences, particularly stress, urge, and mixed incontinence.

Other topics that will be addressed are urinary tract infections (UTI), what increases the likelihood of developing a UTI, and how to distinguish between pelvic floor dysfunction and a UTI.  Stephanie will also address INTERSTITIAL CYSTITIS (IC), a common diagnosis that patients self-diagnose on WebMD, and the difference between pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, which often presents symptomatically as IC, versus actual IC.

Male pelvic floor issues will be addressed as well!  Stephanie will discuss prostatitis, prostatectomy, and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH).  She will explain how physical therapy, including bladder retraining and irritant avoidance, can help address the aforementioned diagnoses.

Men and women alike stand to benefit tremendously from the information Stephanie will share with the class.  The class will conclude with a Q and A session, and many yummy, healthy treats will be available for participants.  Furthermore, a free DVD of “Healing and Abdominal Pain” will be distributed to all first time guests.

We look forward to seeing you on OCTOBER 21 AT 7:00 PM!  Please email any questions or comments to us at desk@beyondbasicspt.com.

 

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