A 2016 study published in the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) showed dramatic findings when physical therapy was used as a method for treating urine leaks in postmenopausal women with osteoporosis. The first controlled, randomized study of PT to treat this condition showed dramatic improvements resulting from pelvic floor muscle training in particular.
While urinary incontinence is common in older women, postmenopausal women with osteoporosis struggle more with this condition than women with healthy bones. Reducing the frequency of urinary leaks strongly impacts health, since women with this condition tend to limit their physical activity to prevent it. Strength training in women helps strengthen bones and prevent debilitating fractures, so it is particularly critical for women with osteoporosis or who are otherwise at high risk for this condition.
The researchers compared 48 women who were 55 or older. They recruited women from both the waitlist of a clinic that specializes in treating continence issues and a clinic that specializes in dealing with osteoporosis. Interestingly, women from both wait lists were found to have both osteoporosis and incontinence.
Half of the women underwent 12 weekly sessions of PT therapy that involved pelvic floor muscle exercise and biofeedback training, as well as other techniques. The other women had an educational session on preventing or treating osteoporosis, one-on-one sessions with a PT and dietician, and extensive follow-up discussions with their healthcare providers.
The researchers did not know which patients received PT training and which had the more comprehensive treatment with multiple specialists. Assessments took place at the beginning of the study, at three months, and then one year. One type of assessment had the patients complete bladder diaries and questionnaires related to their incontinence and self-efficacy, while the other assessment used pads to measure how much urine leaked over a 24-hour period.
The results of the study were striking. Three months after treatment started, the women who underwent PT showed a 75% reduction in urine leaks, while the control group did not improve. One year later, the women with PT still showed a 75% reduction while the other ones had gotten worse.
While no one knows yet exactly why the women with osteoporosis suffer more from urine leaks, finding a way to control the problem should greatly improve the lives of these postmenopausal women.