A weak pelvic floor is no fun; trampolines become a thing of the past, Tena Lady pads a shopping list staple. Sneezing, jumping, running – even coughing – all come with the threat of a wet gusset. While often sniggered at, urinary dysfunction is rarely talked about, yet one in three women are affected at some point in their lives. Chances are, you’re one of them.
The good news is that with some intervention – and a modest amount of effort – 75 percent of symptoms can be reversed. Even better news is that you no longer have to rely on banging out endless sets of kegels. There’s now a raft of leading edge treatments, products and approaches to help you regain control.
Devotees have been waxing lyrical about Pilates’ ability to strengthen pelvic floors for years. Gemma Folkard teaches in south east London (www.pilates_barne.co.uk; @pilates_barne) and says for many post natal mums the whole subject can be baffling. “Women are told to visualise their vagina as an unfurling flower or imagine their pelvic floor is ascending and descending like a lift; no wonder the majority struggle to do exercises correctly. While a strong mind-body connection is vital, I think the key is not to over-think. One of the most effective ways to strengthen the entire pelvic girdle,” she says, “is simply through breath, movement and posture. Regular Pilates classes encourage a natural awakening and awareness of the area that, after time, occurs almost involuntarily.” Forget jerky, kegel style clenches. Gemma recommends repeatedly picking up your bath mat using your toes while standing (you should feel your inner thigh activate and a natural contraction of the pelvic floor); squats also pay huge dividends.
Innovo (£249, www.restorethefloor.com) is a new, clinically proven, pelvic floor restoration system that promises an improvement in bladder dysfunction in just four weeks. Best thing? It does the hard work for you. Gel pads are fitted inside what looks like a pair of cowboy chaps that wrap tightly around your bum and thighs. Once on, you hook up to a handheld controller that delivers 180 perfect contractions to the pelvic floor via electrical pulses. Each session lasts 30 minutes and you’re advised to complete five a week. There are two programmes: one for stress incontinence (when you leak after coughing or sneezing) and one for urge incontinence (a sudden and often uncontrollable desire to pass urine). The aim is to start gently and increase the power over time. Be warned, while the lower intensity feels like a pleasant tickle around your undercarriage, the higher end causes rather alarming (albeit painless) involuntary air humps.
Elvie (£149, www.elvie.com) is a pebble-shaped, wireless gizmo that you insert into your vagina. Once in, you link to an app on your phone which guides you through a series of mini workouts, each controlled by contracting and relaxing your pelvic floor muscles. The stronger you are, the higher your score. The beauty of this sleek bit of kit is, by giving you measurable results, it takes the guesswork out of whether you’re doing the exercises correctly; it also helps hone your technique. Gaming with my vagina is the most fun I’ve had with it in a long time and I actually fist pumped on day four having reached a personal best. Despite what the manufacturers say it can’t feasibly be done any old where, however, it is very stylish and could easily be transported in your handbag without fear of reprisal.
Worried it’s all got a bit ‘wizard’s sleeve’ down there? Geneveve (from £1500, www.viveve.com) is a radio frequency procedure for women who suffer from vaginal laxity, urinary incontinence and decreased sexual function. It’s a one-off, thirty minute treatment that’s minimally invasive, pain-free and works by stimulating collagen growth to tighten the vagina. In randomised, controlled studies, 93 percent of women reported significant improvement. Dr Mayoni – a former NHS colorectal and pelvic floor surgeon – offers the treatment at her London clinic (www.drmayoni.co.uk). “Geneveve is nothing short of revolutionary for women,” she says. “There’s no surgery, no anesthesia and no downtime. It’s life-changing.”
While pregnancy and age are clear contributors to pelvic floor dysfunction, any repeated strain on the area – whether through chronic respiratory conditions, high impact exercise or constipation – can lead to issues. “It can be hard for women to visualise or connect with their pelvic floor,” explains Emma Hunter, a Women’s Health Physio (£45 a session, www.ehphysio.com). “But ignoring weakness can cause pelvic organ prolapse, when the bladder, bowel or uterus drop into the path of the vagina. Pelvic floor exercises can be a great first line therapy when it comes to managing the symptoms and, in certain cases, can avoid the need for surgery.”
Many assume incontinence is the price you pay for giving birth but it doesn’t have to be. Speak to your GP, contact your local Women’s Health Physio, or at the very least invest in an app like the brilliant, NHS backed Squeezy (£2.99, App Store). I can’t promise a fanny like a bulldog clip, but you’ll be trampolining like a queen in no time.