Acupuncture and Incontinence

by Michael Hurley, L.Ac.

Urinary incontinence can be surprising, inconvenient, and embarrassing.  From leakage due to coughing, sneezing, laughing, or lifting to sudden urges to urinate followed by involuntary loss of urine, over 25 million adult Americans and 200 million people worldwide suffer from some form of urinary incontinence.  75-80% of those who suffer are women.

Acupuncture can safely and effectively treat this condition.  Several recent clinical trials show that acupuncture can help reduce both leakage and frequency of urges at least as effectively as some conventional medicines.

Urinary incontinence occurs when urine unintentionally leaks from the urethra. The two most common types of urinary incontinence are stress incontinence and urge incontinence.

  • Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) is a type of urinary incontinence that occurs during physical activities such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, or lifting. Stress urinary incontinence is the most common type of urinary incontinence affecting women.
  • Urge urinary incontinence is an involuntary loss of urine caused by a sudden urge to urinate. The etiology of the urinary urgency that causes urge incontinence is not known. Some believe that it could be related to peripheral nerves, as well as the central nervous system, which would cause muscle hypersensitivity and the reduced effectiveness of smooth muscle relaxation.

Possible Causes include:

  • Stretched pelvic muscles during pregnancy and childbirth
  • Diabetes, especially gestational diabetes
  • Low estrogen levels in women
  • Enlarged prostate in men
  • Medication side effects
  • Chronic or recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Constipation
  • Being overweight
  • Diseases that damage nerve pathways from the bladder to the brain, such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, or multiple sclerosis
  • Weakened muscles that control urination, such as urethral sphincter and pelvic floor muscles
  • Hip dysfunction and prior hip surgery

Conventional Treatment:

Currently, conventional treatment includes pelvic exercises (i.e. Kegels) for mild symptoms, which help to strengthen pelvic muscles and sphincter muscles at the neck of the bladder. Pharmaceutical medications are also used as a treatment modality.

Chinese Medicine Diagnosis and Treatment:

Chinese Medicine looks at the majority of incontinence conditions as Spleen-Kidney Yang deficiency.  The main goal of treatment would be to fortify the Spleen and tonify the Spleen Qi, tonify the Kidneys and invigorate the Yang. As we age, our Kidney and Spleen Qi get weaker.  This causes our body to become weaker which results in an inability to hold.  Examples other than incontinence would include wrinkly skin, sagging muscles, and increasing risks of a hernia.  Incontinence related to conditions such as diabetes and UTIs may present different patterns and are treated according to their presenting pattern.

Other things that you can do on your own to help:

  • Eat cranberries and blueberries because they contain substances that keep bacteria from sticking to the bladder in the case of urinary tract infections. However, some people with overactive bladder may find that cranberries irritate their bladder because of the acidic nature.
  • Avoid caffeine, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and tobacco.
  • Drink 6 to 8 glasses of water daily. Not drinking enough water can irritate the bladder and make incontinence worse. So, thinking that avoiding your water intake would help is definitely not the way to go.
  • Some foods may make urge incontinence worse for some people, including citrus fruits, tomatoes, spicy foods, caffeine, and carbonated sodas.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes daily, 5 days a week.

Acupuncture is a technique used by practitioners of Chinese medicine where hair-thin needles are strategically inserted just under the skin to promote the flow of Qi throughout the body.  Under the regular care of a licensed acupuncturist, you can expect to increase energy, calm your moods, fight off illness more efficiently, sleep more regularly, reduce cravings(food, drugs, and alcohol), digest your food more efficiently, and gain an overall balance in your body, mind, and spirit.  Regular care is typically one to three acupuncture treatments per week depending on the severity of your symptoms.

  • This article was written by Michael Hurley L.Ac. Michael is the co-owner and acupuncturist at Cup of Life Healing Center located at 82 Washington Street Suite 2 in Keene, NH. (603) 352-3625

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