Earlier this year (2/14/19) I wrote an article about Dr. Jeza’s Low-Pressure Fitness (hypopressives) classes in Puerto Vallarta. I described how effective hypopessives can be for core and pelvic floor issues, including bladder and bowel incontinence.
That article brought a flood of responses from readers. They told me that they experience urinary or anal incontinence or both. They don’t talk about it much. Few of them knew that exercising the pelvic floor muscles might help.
Urinary incontinence is the first most common pelvic floor disorder. Anal incontinence is the second. Anal incontinence is the inability to control bowel leakage. It can be both embarrassing and uncomfortable. It interferes with your ability to work and play. It affects your quality of life.
Anal incontinence is also called Accidental Bowel Leakage (ABL). The likelihood of ABL or anal incontinence increases with age. By the time you are 70 and older, there is at least a 15% chance of bowel incontinence. Maybe more, because the issue is under-reported. It affects 50 to 84 percent of the elderly in long-term care facilities. It is a leading cause of referral to nursing homes.
I am focusing on anal incontinence here. But pelvic floor work like hypopressives will address both issues. Your pelvic floor muscles support your rectum and your urinary bladder. If they are weak, both urinary and anal incontinence can occur.
Anal incontinence requires that we also address weak anal sphincter muscles. These are the muscles around the anal opening. I will describe an exercise for strengthening the anal sphincters below.
The anal sphincters and puborectalis are the primary muscles responsible for bowel continence. There are two anal sphincters: internal and external. The internal sphincter handles 85 percent of the resting muscle tone and is involuntary. You do not have control of this muscle. The external sphincter handles 15 percent of your muscle tone and is voluntary. You can control it.
Squeeze the puborectalis muscle and the external anal sphincter together. This action closes the anal canal and can help prevent leakage.
There are many causes of bowel incontinence. These include injuries from childbirth, rectal surgeries, nerve damage and other trauma. As mentioned before, aging is a factor. Loose stools can slip through the sphincters easier than firm stool. So resolving diarrhea, soft stool, or constipation will improve anal incontinence.
Here is an exercise for toning your external sphincters.
Anal Sphincter Strengthener
Lie on your back (supine). Place your bent knees on the couch, a chair or a box.
Place one hand on your abdomen.
Begin to tighten your anal sphincter muscle.
Do not involve the stomach, thigh, leg or buttocks muscles. The hand you place on your abdomen should not move.
Take 5 minutes to gradually tighten your anal sphincter muscle.
Maintain the top of your squeeze for 10, 20, 30 seconds.
Gradually relax your anal sphincter muscle over 5 seconds.
Repeat several times.
As you gain experience, you can practice this move lying down, sitting, or standing. Anytime, anywhere. Repeat throughout the day. Practice daily for the rest of your life!
Summing Up: Anal incontinence is a common issue as we age. It may get us referred to a nursing home. Exercises for pelvic floor and anal sphincter can reverse or prevent anal incontinence.
Medical Disclaimer: This article is for education and information only. It is not a substitute for a doctor’s opinion.