Types of Urinary Incontinence & How to Treat Them | PT Effect

Types of Urinary Incontinence & How to Treat Them

Physical therapy can help you control pelvic floor muscles to treat incontinence
Read Time: 4 minutes
Oct 12, 2021

Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control. It occurs more often as people age but isn’t necessarily a symptom of aging. It’s not something that happens to everyone and it can usually be treated. Urinary incontinence can range in severity from a small amount of leakage that occurs when the abdominal muscles are suddenly tensed, such as during a cough or a sneeze, to the inability to reach the bathroom in time.

What Is Urinary Incontinence?

Definition Urinary incontinence is a loss of bladder control that is uncontrollable. It is a physical condition that can negatively affect a person emotionally and psychologically.

For many people, lifestyle changes or adjustments to diet can help treat urinary incontinence. For others, medical treatment or physical therapy may be needed. The treatment depends on the cause of the urinary incontinence. So what types of urinary incontinence are there and how are they treated?

Stress Incontinence

Pregnant woman laughing at baby shower with friends

Stress incontinence occurs when you put stress on the muscles that control your bladder. This stress puts pressure on your bladder, which then causes urine to leak out.

Stress incontinence can be caused by:

  • Laughing
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Working out
  • Lifting heavy items

Stress incontinence can be caused by pregnancy and childbirth, age, obesity, a hysterectomy or other surgery, or menopause. It occurs when the pelvic floor muscles are weakened and can’t control the bladder as well.

How Is Stress Incontinence Treated?

Physical therapy is a common treatment for stress incontinence. Because it’s caused by weakened pelvic floor muscles, physical therapy can strengthen those muscles to reduce the occurrences of stress incontinence. In particular, Kegels, which involve contracting and then relaxing the pelvic floor muscles, are recommended.

Functional Incontinence

Functional incontinence occurs when there’s a delay in reaching the toilet in time because of either a mental or physical impairment. The impairment is something that prevents someone from either reaching the bathroom, removing necessary clothing, or transferring from a wheelchair to the toilet in time to use it.

How Is Functional Incontinence Treated?

Because functional incontinence isn’t a bladder or pelvic floor problem, the best way to treat the incontinence is to treat the impairment that causes the delay. For example, if arthritis is preventing someone from removing clothing quickly enough, then treating the arthritis can help to also treat the functional incontinence.

Someone suffering from functional incontinence can also try to reduce the amount of time it takes to reach the bathroom by wearing easy-to-remove clothing and scoping out bathrooms in public places beforehand. On top of that, pelvic floor exercises can help to increase the ability to hold the bladder should a delay still occur.

Overflow Incontinence

Overflow incontinence occurs when the bladder doesn’t completely empty during urination and excess urine leaks out later on. Because there’s urine still in the bladder after urinating, there’s a higher risk of urinary tract infections. Overflow incontinence can be caused by nerve damage, weakened bladder muscles, certain medications, urethra blockages, or, in men, an enlarged prostate.

How Is Overflow Incontinence Treated?

How overflow incontinence is treated depends on what causes it. Certain medications can help relax the urethra. If medication doesn’t help, then a catheter may be necessary to ensure that the bladder completely empties. If the overflow incontinence is caused by an enlarged prostate, then surgery may be necessary to remove the blockage.

Urge Incontinence

Woman holding bladder stomach

Urge incontinence occurs when someone experiences an intense, sudden urge to urinate followed shortly afterward by the involuntary emptying of the bladder. Someone with urge incontinence may need to urinate frequently, even in the middle of the night. Often, urge incontinence is the result of an infection, diabetes, or a neurological condition.

How Is Urge Incontinence Treated?

There are several different methods to treat urge incontinence. One is to learn to identify when urge incontinence will strike so that you have more time to make it to the bathroom. There also may be medications that can treat the condition, especially if it’s caused by an infection. Bladder training, which involves waiting longer before using the bathroom, may be able to help. Physical therapy for pelvic floor muscles, especially Kegel exercises, can also help to reduce the risk of involuntary bladder emptying.

Mixed Incontinence

Mixed incontinence is a mix of at least two types of urinary incontinence. To treat mixed incontinence, the causes of each type of incontinence should be addressed. Pelvic floor physical therapy exercises such as Kegel exercises can also help by strengthening the muscles used to control the bladder.

Get Relief From the Aggravations of Urinary Incontinence

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Mark Shulman

Dr. Mark Shulman

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), FAAOMPT, COMT, CSCS


Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists.

Mark Shulman

Dr. Allison McKay

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT), PRPC


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