Lisa Flanders, Registered Physiotherapist

Connecting you with your Pelvic Floor

Penguin Walking-An Urgent Bladder Story

Stigma surrounding the pelvic floor

There is a common state of thinking, that we shouldn’t discuss our private parts. Even the phrase “private parts” leads us into thinking that this is a secret that nobody else can know about.

Why is this a taboo topic? There is an assumption that as adults we should be toilet trained and be able to control our bladders. Accidental leakage and/or other bladder dysfunctions can feel embarrassing, as if we don’t have any control. The truth is one in 3 women will experience urinary incontinence in their lives and at least half of all women will experience some form of pelvic floor dysfunction. Interestingly, this is the same statistic as people who experience low back pain. I’m sure you have heard multiple people tell you about their back pain, but when was the last time one of your friends mentioned she peed her pants while trying to make it to the washroom?

You are not alone in this. Below is my story about struggles with urgency and urge incontinence.

Penguin walking

For as long as I can remember up until about 5 years ago, I struggled with something called urgency. Meaning an urgent need to urinate, like right now. Nearly every day I would be on my way home from school (and when I got a bit older this turned into on my way home from work) and I would sort of feel like I had to go to the washroom, but nothing I couldn’t hold. I would arrive home, and from the MOMENT I opened the door, the feeling would overtake me. I would resort to what I call a penguin walk to get to toilet before I peed all over. The penguin walk is where you hold your knees together and waddle as fast as you can toward the washroom.

penguinwalk

Now the thing is, this didn’t just happen at home, this happened whenever I sort of felt like I had to pee and then got within a 10 meter vicinity of a washroom. I always thought this was a bit weird, like my bladder knew I was close and it was prepping for evacuation. I also thought I was the only one that this happened to, none of my friends had ever mentioned a mad penguin dash to the bathroom.

I will also admit that there were a handful of occasions where I could not hold it and the penguin walk did not help; I leaked A LOT before making it to the washroom. As a teenage girl, I felt embarrassed, yet I would never admit to anyone that this was happening.

Fast-forward a few years. I was sitting in class for my first of many pelvic health courses in Montreal, QC. I was a fairly new graduate and eagerly awaiting to learn how to help people with bladder leakage. Within the first 15 minutes of the 4-day weekend, my wonderful instructor started talking about urgency and referenced putting the key in the door triggering some women’s bladders as a cue to pee. Could it be real I thought, is she reading my mind? Realization clicked in, as I looked around our small classroom and saw the look of familiarity across multiple participants’ faces and I realized I was not alone in this, it was called urgency and it was a common concern in many women.

What is urgency?

Urgency is any pressing need to urinate, often coming on very quickly. There is usually a trigger, something that sets the bladder off like getting home and putting your key in the door (sometimes called latch-key urgency) or being around running water. It can sometimes be related to a urinary tract infection so it is necessary to have your doctor rule out any sign of infection. It is often a miscommunication between our brain and our bladder. Our brain hears, “Oh I’ll just go when I get home” and as soon as we get home, key in the door our brain tells our bladder “You are home, time to go”.

For more information about urgency, incontinence and over-active bladder, click here.

First steps in taking back control over your urgent bladder

Start changing the way your brain thinks; remember, mind over bladder. Slow down and breathe. Instead of saying “I’ll go when I get home”, specify to your brain, “I will pee when my pants are pulled down and I am sitting on the toilet”. Altering your self-talk can be an important and necessary first step to overcoming urgency.

Either your medical doctor or pelvic floor physiotherapist should evaluate all forms of pelvic floor dysfunction, plus, ruling out other causes of urgency should be explored.

I am happy to report that I no longer have to penguin walk to the washroom and I am in full control of my bladder and urgency. The take-home message is that you are not alone! If you have ANY concerns related to your bowel, bladder or sexual function, I encourage you to speak to a healthcare professional or pelvic floor physiotherapist and learn how to take back control of your pelvic floor.

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