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Physios' role highlighted during World Incontinence Week

Photo: Australian Physiotherapy Association
This month’s Continence Week highlights the important role of physiotherapists in managing this common condition, linked to the pelvic floor muscles.

Defined as the involuntary loss of urine from the bladder or faeces from the rectum, incontinence can be a transient or permanent condition, affecting up to 37% of Australian women, and 13% of Australian men.

“The pelvic floor muscles are the main group of muscles that are identified as being involved in maintaining continence, as well the external anal sphincter muscle for control of faeces,” said Australian Physiotherapy Association member Cath Willis.

“The bladder itself is a muscle called the detrusor, and its overactivity can be the cause of urge urinary incontinence. 

“Physiotherapists who work in the area of women’s, men’s and pelvic health are trained to assess and manage dysfunction in these muscles.”
Ms Willis said it’s important that physiotherapists played an active role in the prevention and treatment of incontinence, before and after diagnosis.

“In a perfect world, physiotherapists would be very actively involved in health promotion to prevent incontinence," she said. 

“For example, ensuring everyone is aware of healthy bladder and bowel habits, from the time children begin school.

“Physiotherapists should also be able to provide regular care to women who are pregnant, and in the year after giving birth – this is a time when healthy pelvic floor muscle function is vital.”

People with a history of constipation or chronic respiratory problems can be more at risk of incontinence and GPs can refer patients to physiotherapists for early assessment.

“Physiotherapists can play an active role in the management and prevention of incontinence.

“We need improved awareness in the community so that patients can access us, and strong collaborative relationships with other health professionals to ensure that the right care is provided at the right time.”

When patients present to physiotherapists who have undertaken extra education and training in this area, they are able to assess for causes of incontinence, and often work within a team including dietitians, psychologists, continence nurses, gynaecologists, urologists and colorectal surgeons.

Physiotherapists may include pelvic floor muscle training, bladder retraining, timed visits to the toilet, and positioning on the toilet to improve symptoms of incontinence.

Ongoing encouragement is also an important way to help patients take charge of their symptoms.

This year, World Continence Week runs from 18 to 24 June and the event will be celebrated right across the country.

There will be events, talks, activities, displays and performances in the lead up to, as well as following, World Continence Week.

Visit for more information on the campaign and on World Continence Week.


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.