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Urinary incontinence is a fairly common problem. It affects an estimated 20% of people over 40 years old. Bowel incontinence is when you have an urgent need to empty your bowel, experience soiling or lose faeces from the bowel.
Incontinence can often be treated without drugs or surgery through exercises that improve the strength of your pelvic floor muscles.
Read our evidence briefing:
Physiotherapy works: Urinary incontinence
One of the main causes of incontinence in both men and women is weak pelvic floor muscles. If your incontinence is due to a weak pelvic floor, try physiotherapy first to strengthen these muscles before considering an operation. Physiotherapy can help with both bladder and bowel incontinence.
Research has shown that pelvic floor muscle training is cheaper and more effective than one of the main incontinence drugs. Other research compared non-surgical treatments. This found that intensive pelvic floor muscle training, plus lifestyle changes, was the most effective method for treating urinary and bowel incontinence.
- teach you how to use your pelvic floor muscles correctly
- show you exercises to strengthen them
- look at how your diet may be affecting your bowel control
- give you advice on what and how much to drink
- discuss possible lifestyle changes which will help you manage the problem
Physios are the third largest health profession after doctors and nurses. They work in the NHS, in private practice, for charities and in the work-place, through occupational health schemes.
- Follow the simple exercises in our free leaflets to strengthen your pelvic floor
- Try to prepare for coughing, sneezing or any exertion such as getting up a chair by tightening your pelvic floor muscles first
- When you finish using the toilet, lift your pelvic floor to empty the bladder fully
- Try to drink 1.5 litres (3 pints) of fluid per day
- Don’t drink too much alcohol as it can make you pass water more frequently
- Avoid too much tea or coffee, as caffeine can affect how the bladder works
- Eat a healthy diet to avoid constipation - straining to empty the bowel will weaken the pelvic floor muscles
The content on this page is provided for general information purposes only and is not meant to replace a physiotherapy or medical consultation. The CSP is not responsible for the content of any external sites, nor should selection be seen as an endorsement of them.