Stress incontinence (the unintentional loss of urine with physical activity) is a huge – but largely hidden – problem. According to the Bladder and Bowel Organisation, as many as 40 per cent of women are troubled by urinary stress incontinence at some point in their life. It is usually due to a weakened pelvic floor – the muscles and ligaments holding up your bottom and controlling the bowels and waterworks – and is common after being stretched during childbirth, with muscle weakening during menopause and pressure from weight gain.
For many, the practicality and stigma has a life-changing impact, yet they rarely talk about it, even to health professionals. Sufferers may be unable to exercise or travel and can become withdrawn and isolated for fear of leakage. Even coughing, laughing or sneezing can be awkward. Mike Quinn, from the Bladder and Bowel Organisation, says women experiencing stress or urge incontinence spend an average of £400 a year on sanitary protection. Pelvic floor exercises usually help if they’re done regularly and correctly (see here) as can using tens stimulation, hormones, intravaginal electrotherapy or surgery. I am generally sceptical about new high-tech methods outside the NHS, but had heard of a noninvasive treatment that uses a high-intensity focused electromagnetic field to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
I decided to go to the S-Thetics clinic in Buckinghamshire first, to see how it might feel with a five-minute trial on my abdominal muscles. I lay down, flat paddles were placed on my tummy and, within moments, strong but painless electromagnetic contractions had my abs rippling. This technology has been used for years to strengthen muscles following strokes and injuries. Next the pelvic floor, with a visit to London clinic River Aesthetics to trial the Emsella chair, which uses the same technology. I sat in the stately chair fully dressed, chatting to the doctor during the treatment, which was surprisingly uneventful. I could just feel a tapping, like the light banging of a hammer, from underneath the chair. Nothing embarrassing or intimate. It could even be done in the waiting room!
Unlike standard exercises involving clenching and pulling up the pelvic floor up to 50 times a day, the chair delivers the equivalent of 11,000 in 30 minutes. It doesn’t come cheap – £2,000 for six 30-minute sessions – but the effects should last for up to two years, and longer if you also perform regular pelvic floor exercises. An improvement is usually seen within a month and, according to a peer-reviewed paper, 67 per cent of women who used the Emsella chair reduced or eliminated the use of pads. As for side effects – I was able to hop straight on my bike and cycle home.
A bathtime boost for mind and body
Magnesium is an essential mineral that helps muscle, brain and nerve function. It can also improve metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity), help reduce blood sugars in type 2 diabetes, boost exercise performance and reduce depression, inflammation and blood pressure. Yet one in five British women aged 19-34 have low levels – and there are few symptoms of deficiency. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 270mg for women and 300mg for men (higher doses can interact with medication and affect kidney or heart conditions), most of which should come from your diet, particularly meat, dairy, fish, green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, avocado, quinoa, black beans and dark chocolate.
If you need a boost, though, I like Solgar Magnesium Citrate Tablets, or, for a more luxurious way to up your intake, try a long soak in a bath with Better You Original Magnesium Flakes Foot & Body Soak.
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