Specialized Yoga Program Could Help Women with Urinary Incontinence

An ancient form of meditation and exercise could help women who suffer from urinary incontinence, according to a new study from UC San Francisco.

In a study scheduled to be published on April 25, 2014 in Female Pelvic Medicine &Reconstructive Surgery, the official journal of the American Urogynecologic Society, UCSF researchers discovered that a yoga training program, designed to improve pelvic health, can help women gain more control over their urination and avoid accidental urine leakage.

“Yoga is often directed at mindful awareness, increasing relaxation, and relieving anxiety and stress,” said first author Alison Huang, MD, assistant professor in the UCSF School of Medicine. “For these reasons, yoga has been directed at a variety of other conditions – metabolic syndrome or pain syndromes – but there’s also a reason to think that it could help for incontinence as well.”

Huang and her colleagues recruited 20 women from the Bay Area who were 40 years and older and who suffered from urinary incontinence on a daily basis. Half were randomly assigned to take part in a six-week yoga therapy program and the other half were not. The women who took part in the yoga program experienced an overall 70 percent improvement – or reduction – in the frequency of their urine leakage compared to the baseline. The control group – or the group that did not start yoga therapy – only had 13 percent improvement.  Most of the observed improvement in incontinence was in stress incontinence, or urine leakage brought on by activities that increase abdominal pressure such as coughing, sneezing, and bending over.

Huang and her colleagues believe that yoga can improve urinary incontinence through more than one mechanism.  Because incontinence is associated with anxiety and depression, women suffering from incontinence may benefit from yoga’s emphasis on mindful meditation and relaxation.  But regular practice of yoga may also help women strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor that support the bladder and protect against incontinence.

“We thought this would be a good opportunity for women to use yoga to become more aware of and have more control over their pelvic floor muscles,” Huang said.

Approximately 25 million adults in America suffer from some form of urinary incontinence, according to the National Association for Continence. Up to 80 percent of them are women. Urinary incontinence becomes more common as women age, although many younger women also suffer from it.

“We specifically developed a yoga therapy program that would be safe for older women, including women with minor mobility limitations,” Huang said. “So we were partially assessing safety of this program for older women who are at highest risk for having incontinence in the first place.”

Not all types of yoga may help with urinary incontinence. The yoga program used in the study was specially designed with input from yoga consultants Leslie Howard and Judith Hanson Lasater, who have experience teaching women to practice yoga in ways that will improve their pelvic health.  Still Huang and her colleagues believe that many women in the community can be taught to preserve pelvic muscle strength and prevent incontinence.

“It would be a way for women to gain more control over their pelvic floor muscles without having to go through traditional costly and time-intensive rehabilitation therapy,” Huang said.

Men were not included in this study because urinary incontinence in men is often related to problems related to the prostate, which may be less likely to improve with yoga. Huang and her colleagues hope to eventually build on this study and double the length of the study to 12 weeks.

Huang is the first author of the paper. The senior author is Leslee L. Subak, MD, a professor at UCSF’s School of Medicine. Co-authors include Margaret A. Chesney, PhD, director of theUCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine; Hillary E. Jenny, BS, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai; and Michael Schembri, BS, of the UCSF School of Medicine.

This study was supported by a UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine Pilot Award from Mt. Zion Health Fund. Huang also is supported by a Paul Beeson Career Development Award (1K23AG038335) from the National Institute on Aging and the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR). Jenny also is also supported by a Medical Student Training in Aging Research grant from AFAR. Subak also is supported by grant #5K24DK080775 from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disorders.

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care. It includes top-ranked graduate schools of dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy, a graduate division with nationally renowned programs in basic biomedical, translational and population sciences, as well as a preeminent biomedical research enterprise and two top-ranked hospitals, UCSF Medical Center and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco.

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8 thoughts on “Specialized Yoga Program Could Help Women with Urinary Incontinence”

  1. It is always encouraging to see unconventional methods of healing that actually work. Urinary incontinence can lead to anxiety and a loss of confidence which can eventually become depression. It is truly remarkable that all this can be prevented by doing yoga.

  2. Urinary incontinence is a highly embarrassing thing that happens to all type of women so being able to control it by using a form of exercise that is relaxing and very easy to do is quite amazing, this article has not only informed me on the results of what yoga can do for this specific type of condition but has emphasis why yoga is such an important part of exercise and the best part of it is the fact that it is cost effective and can be fitted into any working women’s day . Yoga can be done by all types of women everywhere

  3. An interesting article indeed.As a young woman I’m inspired by this.Health is so concerning, doing yoga will not only strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor,it helps to relieve stress and improves your mental health.I have been trying to lose weight,I’ve tried different methods unfortunately none of them worked.Being overweight not only has it affected my physical appearance it has led to abdominal problems and indigestion. I am positive that yoga will be my solution.

  4. This article is very useful and can help to motivate young women to start Yoga at a young age, as it will help them in the future. Yoga does not only strengthen the core but as well as helps one to relax and get rid of stress. This is not just helpful for women with Urinary Incontinence but is also useful in lowering blood pressure and improving resistance to psychological stresses. It is also beneficial for people who have back pain. Yoga also improves ones concentration levels, as concentration is one of the eight limbs that Yoga is believed to be made of. This is a very simple exercise that can make such a big improvement on a person’s health as well as in the future. Young women must be motivated in doing this and a simple way in doing this is by implementing Yoga in school’s, in order to get women on the right path at an early age. Video’s and DVD’s of Yoga can be bought or even downloaded over the internet and can even be done at home. There are almost no costs involved in doing this and therefore Yoga can be done anywhere and anytime of the day.

  5. I would also like to add to Jani’s post that yoga is a form of exercise used to strengthen your core. This could be the reason why yoga contributes to urinary incontinence. Not many people know the full benefits of doing yoga because they think it’s not really a form of exercise. But yoga is just as much of an exercise (if not more) than going to a gym. Through personal experience it can also decrease your blood pressure which eventually leads to an increase in you cardiovascular efficiency and decreases your respiratory rate as well. Yoga can increase your overall wellbeing and should be recommended for every one of all ages.

  6. Various traditions of yoga are found in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism and that is why some people have a problem with practicing yoga. This article will broaden their minds by showing people that specific yoga exercises can help strengthen the pelvic muscles to prevent untimely urination. I think if we look further we could find more problems that could be cured by simple yoga exercises. Like muscle injuries for example. Yoga is a slow choice capable of nursing your muscle injuries back to optimal health.The best thing is that you can do it in your own home for free.

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