Incontinence is the inability to control urination or bowel movements. There are several types of urinary incontinence, and its causes range from infections and bladder stones to injury due to childbirth or surgery. Bowel incontinence can result from a blockage of stool, severe diarrhea, or injury.

Biofeedback Training for Incontinence

Biofeedback training can help people with incontinence regain control over the muscles that regulate urination or bowel movements. The treatment uses monitors that "feed back" certain biological levels. Armed with this information, patients can learn to alter and control involuntary functions of the body.

Electromyographic biofeedback, which measures muscle tension, is often used to treat both urinary and bowel incontinence. For example, electrodes can be attached around the anus to measure electrical activity, which is translated into degrees of muscle pressure. The biofeedback trainer then instructs the patient on ways to tense up or relax these muscles around the anus, and the biofeedback monitor shows the progress.

For urinary incontinence, biofeedback also offers a way to check that patients are properly doing their exercises of the pelvis muscles. With women, a probe is inserted in the vagina to measure muscle contractions and relaxation.

About a dozen studies have shown that biofeedback training can improve bowel incontinence in more than 70 percent of patients tested. Other studies have reported 20 to 25 percent of patients being totally "cured" of urinary incontinence after undergoing a course of treatment with biofeedback training.

Biofeedback training can be used to reinforce the pelvic muscle exercises taught to women with certain types of urinary incontinence. The exercises, done four times a day, include the following steps:

  • Tighten and then relax the muscles around the vagina and urethra as fast as you can. Do this about ten times. (To make sure you're using the right muscles, the next time you're sitting on the toilet, try to stop the flow of urine midstream. If you can stop the flow, then you're using those muscles.)
  • Next, tighten the muscles, hold for four seconds, and then relax. Also do this about ten times.

Herbal Medicine for Incontinence

Herbs can be especially effective in treating urinary incontinence. The group of plants called toning herbs can strengthen and restore the mucous membranes in the urinary tract and may prevent incontinence. The stems of horsetail, for example, can be taken in the form of juice, powder in capsules, or tincture. (The juice form may be difficult to find.)

Other beneficial herbs include buchu, saw palmetto, corn silk, plantain, and nettles. St. John's wort is also often added to an herbal remedy for urinary incontinence. Herbs can also be effective for ailments related to or precipitating incontinence, such as recurrent urinary tract infection, constipation, and diarrhea.

Other Incontinence Therapies

  • Acupuncture for Incontinence -- An acupuncturist can correct imbalances in the flow of vital energy, or qi. Urinary incontinence, for example, is thought to result from a deficiency of qi in the kidney.
  • Homeopathy for Incontinence -- Prescriptions can be tailored to individual symptoms to stimulate the body's peak performance.
  • Nutritional Therapy for Incontinence -- Dietary changes and supplementation can strengthen the body and avoid taxing the digestive tract. Fiber and water should be added to the diet, and several foods should be avoided, including coffee and alcohol. Food allergies may also play a role in incontinence.

For more information on incontinence and alternative medicine, see: