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Chair-Based Exercises Improve Urinary Incontinence in Women


For the millions of women who experience urinary incontinence in the United States, there may be a new nondrug approach to treat this condition. Researchers at Rush University Medical Center have found that chair-based exercises provide older women with an effective way to treat and manage symptoms such as leakage of urine, feelings of urgency, and frequent urination, among others.

The National Association for Continence reports that of the 25 million Americans who have transient or chronic urinary incontinence, 75 to 80 percent of them are women. The condition mostly affects women older than 50. Symptoms of urinary incontinence can be slightly annoying to totally debilitating, causing great emotional distress and preventing women from going out in public or engaging in sexual activity.

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center found that a program combining pelvic floor muscle exercises with pelvic health education can be an effective way to manage urinary incontinence in elderly women. In their study, 65 women ages 67 to 95 who had urinary incontinence either participated in supervised chair-based exercises and education sessions for six weeks or were assigned to a control group.

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The exercises involved identifying, isolating, and strengthening muscles that support the pelvic area, including those in the abdominal region (the transversus abdominus), the back of the trunk (multifidus), and the pelvic floor muscles, which help support the internal organs like the bladder. The women in the treatment group also received four sessions that covered information on basic bladder and pelvic health. The women in the control group received one session of educational basics and no exercises for urinary incontinence.

While the women in the control group reported no statistically significant improvements, those in the treatment group noted a significant improvement in the frequency of urination, urine leakage related to feelings of urgency, and urine leakage caused by activities such as coughing or sneezing. Other improvements in urinary incontinence included less urgency during the night, increased self-confidence, and better ability to manage their bladder, especially when they sneezed or were physically active. Eighty-two percent of the women said they would continue the exercises after the study.

Urinary incontinence in women is often the result of multiple pregnancies and vaginal births, which weaken the muscles that support the bladder. Other causes may include menopause, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and neurologic injuries. Although older women experience urinary incontinence more than younger women, the condition is not inevitable with age.

The Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases notes that no single treatment for urinary incontinence works for everyone. Kegel exercises, which involves strengthening the pelvic floor muscles, are helpful for many women, as is bladder training. Medications for urinary incontinence include anticholinergics, such as oxybutynin (Ditropan), tolterodine (Detrol), darifenacin (Enablex), and trospium (Sanctura). Surgery is also an option when other efforts do not provide adequate relief.

Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases
National Association for Continence
Rush University Medical Center



Is there more information regarding the type and frequency of exercises?
The Honor Society of Nursing recommends doing Kegel exercises three times a day for five minutes at a time, working up to three sets of 10 repeats each time. You also may want to consult your physician.