Donna Stegman

Woman Overcomes Urine Leakage by Exhaling

“I couldn’t believe it,” she says of painless pelvic floor physical therapy techniques

Donna Stegman never imagined that a deep exhale could change her life. Now 77, the Northern Kentucky resident had been struggling with urine leakage for years and wearing Depends to guard against “accidents.”

When medicines and Botox injections provided little improvement, her urogynecologist suggested trying pelvic floor physical therapy.

Donna wasn’t enthusiastic, but she agreed to try it. “I didn’t have any confidence in it,” she says. “I thought, ‘I don’t know why I’m going here. How can physical therapy help me?’ I was wrong.”

Pelvic floor physical therapist Jacqueline Listerman, PT/DPT, listened to Donna’s description of experiencing her worst leaking when she stood up out of a chair. Urine would start leaking immediately, and “I’d get my clothes wet on the way to the bathroom or when I was pulling down my pants.”

Listerman explains, “Every time Donna stood up, she tightened her core, which put pressure downwards on her bladder.” Listerman encouraged Donna to exhale instead when standing up and to gently squeeze her pelvic floor muscles.

Donna recalls, “I couldn’t believe that would take care of it, but it worked! I didn’t tell anyone for a week, because I couldn’t believe it.”

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Problem Solved in Three Visits

In addition to finding success with exhaling when she stood up, Donna worked on strengthening the main muscle that surrounds her vagina and rectum. Listerman says the muscle assists the urethra, a tube that carries urine out of the body, to close off and prevent leakage.

“We see results fairly quickly,” Listerman says of her work with patients who have urinary incontinence. She notes that Donna achieved all of her goals in three visits.

Donna has retrained her brain to feel the urge to urinate every three hours during the day. The regular schedule increases her bladder control. She also does Kegel exercises twice a day, with 10 repetitions at 10 seconds each and five repetitions while exhaling. Listerman’s explanation of how to do the exercises properly was helpful, Donna says.

“I still can’t quite believe that this keeps working,” Donna marvels. “It wasn’t medicine I needed to correct me. I’m doing this myself.”

Listerman, who is one of three pelvic floor physical therapists at St. Elizabeth Healthcare, confirms, “We want women to manage symptoms on their own. We create an individual treatment plan and goals for every patient.”

Taking the First Step

Donna admits that talking about incontinence and seeking help isn’t always easy. “I thought, ‘It’s not such a bad thing – compared to a neighbor who has brain cancer or another on dialysis waiting for a kidney.”

Still, she is extremely pleased to no longer wear Depends or deal with wet pants.

She also is grateful for the therapy team’s ability to put her at ease. “I felt comfortable right away. They’re smiling. They’re friendly. They let you talk. Jacqueline would get out diagrams and show me the bladder and the muscle we needed to make stronger.”

Donna continues, “I encourage other women to ask their doctor about physical therapy and give it a try.”

Listerman adds her support: “Any leakage or pelvic pain is not normal. We can help women with stool and urinary incontinence, pelvic floor weakness, pelvic pain, constipation and sexual discomfort.”

Therapies include exercises to strengthen or relax muscles, biofeedback to engage the brain in awareness of the pelvic floor muscles, and electrical stimulation and ultrasound to relieve pelvic pain.

She concludes, “We see a lot of success stories like Donna’s. She was consistent with her home exercise program, saw it through and continues to do so. The biggest reward for me is hearing women talk about what they can do now – making it through a whole day at work without wearing a pad or being out in the community doing what they want to do.”

Learn more about St. Elizabeth Healthcare and the Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy program, or call (859) 212-5400.

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