Every time Peggy Sue Wells sneezed, coughed or laughed, it happened: bladder leaks. After years of discomfort and embarrassment, she’d finally had enough. She had heard about a surgical procedure that could help, but her doctor suggested she first try something called pelvic floor physical therapy, and to her joy, this simple, painless treatment ended her misery.
Peggy Sue Wells flashed a smile and waved to her kids, who were squealing with joy as they bounced on the trampoline. Seeing her brood of seven playing happily made her heart full, but her contentment was tinged with sadness as they begged her to join in on the fun. Like always, Peggy Sue had to turn them down since jumping on the trampoline was a surefire “whoopsie” waiting to happen. I’ve got to do something, she despaired. I’m not going to let leaks keep me from living my life any longer!
“I was 41 when my youngest child was born,” says Peggy Sue. “She was my dream baby, but weighing in at 10 pounds, she unfortunately brought on a bothersome issue: involuntary bladder leakage to the point where I couldn’t even sneeze without an accident. After becoming a single mom, I didn’t have time to despair over the issue. But when my youngest grew into a toddler, I finally decided to look for a solution and put my years of frustration behind me.
“My grandmother had also suffered like I did and had told me about a procedure that she had twice, called a sling surgery, in which a sling is placed around the urethra to lift it back into position to prevent leakage. My OB/GYN explained it was a common solution to urinary incontinence, but before sending me under the knife, he preferred I try pelvic floor physical therapy — something that he said had helped many women with incontinence, chronic pain, bladder dropping, uterine prolapse, and discomfort.
“’Will this really work?’ I wondered. Still, I was grateful for the referral instead of going straight to surgery, as it would mean less recovery time. And when I discovered insurance covered six weekly sessions, I had to try it.
Freedom From Leaks
“Walking into my first pelvic floor therapy appointment, I felt a twinge of nerves. After all, it can include adjustments done vaginally — something I felt a bit awkward about. But the therapist’s warm, friendly demeanor put me at ease as she explained what was going to happen in our session: ‘I’m going to gently put your pelvic organs that were displaced after pregnancy back where they belong through an internal massage with my finger. No exercise on the planet can do that!’
“We chatted easily while the therapist found tender places and muscle knots inside my pelvis, working them back into their proper positioning with what felt like a light massage. At the end of the 30-minute session, she demonstrated Pilates moves that I could do as ‘homework’ to strengthen my core muscles. ‘Your core will support your repositioned pelvic organs [and] keep them in place to control leakage,’ she added.
“Within just a few days of my first treatment, I was amazed. My bladder leakage had become virtually nonexistent! I even dared to jump on the trampoline and was able to let go and enjoy myself without a ‘whoopsie.’
“Eager to maintain my results, I attended my next five sessions dutifully. By the last one, my incontinence had disappeared. Now, I live my life to the fullest, free of self-consciousness. I have been able to skydive, go line dancing and travel. I’m so grateful for the painless therapy that spared me surgery and gave me back my life!”
Pelvic floor therapy: A specialist shares what you need to know.
“Many women don’t realize leaks can result when the pelvic floor is too weak or too tight,” says Lauren Garges, a physical therapist certified as a pelvic floor clinical specialist. “Doctors often tell patients to do Kegel exercises, but tight muscles are already overworked, so Kegels can cause fatigue that makes leaks more likely,” she says. “For those patients, internal therapy may be needed to relax muscles.”
To determine your best treatment, Garges advises seeking a boardcertified physical therapist who has additional accreditation as a pelvic floor clinical specialist (look for the initials WCS or PRPC after their name). Pelvic floor physical therapy is covered by most insurances, but Garges recommends checking with your provider, then speaking with a therapist to ask questions before booking an appointment. “It’s a sensitive type of therapy, and the patient should always feel in charge,” she says. “At the first session, we typically discuss medical history, look at her posture, hips and spine and do an inter-vaginal exam if she’s comfortable with it. Then we make a treatment plan, together.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.