health

It's time to stop being embarrassed about this super-common health issue.

Pilates teacher Kimberley Garlick’s most rewarding moment was the day one of her students wore tight jeans.

The new look had nothing to do with weight loss or body tone. Fitted clothes looked great on her before Pilates. Still, this student, a 20-something mum, had avoided wearing fitted clothes for months.

The reason? Her baggy clothes hid a deeply personal problem, one she was too embarrassed to mention to a soul. Since, the arrival of her baby, she’d been suffering light bladder leakage. Uncertain how to deal with it, her confidence was crumbling.

Related:I suffer from a problem no-one talks about. This is my story.

“She was nervous to wear jeans in case there was a mishap, and sometimes she wouldn’t even feel it happening,” Kimberley said. “When she came to me, she said ‘I know this sounds superficial, but I’m afraid to wear any tight clothing in case something happens when I’m out. But I’m young; I want to look good.”

Six months later, with a regular program of Pilates in place, jeans weren’t a problem.

“It’s the simple things you don’t appreciate until they’re gone,” Kimberley says.

Light bladder leakage affects one in three women in Australia. Those women can be any age. They might have children; they might not. They might be so fit they’ll boast a six pack – or be complete lounge lizards. The common denominator is that many women feel uncomfortable talking about it – even to their closest friends.

"The common denominator is that many women feel uncomfortable talking about it – even to their closest friends."

“We are seeing women talk about LBL a bit more, so we are seeing more women asking for help,” Kimberley says. But the conversation needs to break into the open so women can stop compromising on life.

“They seek professional help, so they know it will be confidential and will both assist and guide them."

But although women are often advised to do pelvic floor exercises, they often start, then stop, or simply don't do them.

That's where Pilates works.

"They are being directed to Pilates from physios - so that's a positive," Kimberley said.

Pilates has proven a godsend for many women: it can be tailored to any level of fitness or demographic, and works on strengthening both the pelvic floor and the entire core at the same time. Specific Pilates exercises target the muscles that, when weak, cause leakage to occur:

"Specific Pilates exercises target the muscles that, when weak, cause leakage to occur..."

• The pelvic floor. This is a ‘sling’ of muscle, almost like a trampoline. It holds the contents of the pelvic region in place. If a lot of pressure is exerted down on it, the ‘trampoline mat’ becomes worn and less able to hold things in place. The extreme result is a prolapse; at the other end of the spectrum is the sensation of light bladder leakage. The pelvic floor is often weakened as a result of pregnancy - thanks to prolonged pushing - and menopause, because of hormonal changes.

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• The transversus abdominals. These are the deepest layers of the abdominal muscles, attached to the pubic bone, running up the centre of the belly and into tissue in the lower back. ”It’s almost like a corset.” Kimberley says. These muscles are critical in developing control of your core. Typically, they are weak in many people, regardless of how fit they are.

• The multifidus. This muscle lines the spine. Weakness often comes in correlation with lower back injuries.

Pilates can get these critical muscles working together – and much more effectively. The aim is to get the pelvic floor back into order; once that happens, many women find light bladder leakage is a thing of the past.

Kimberley has worked with Poise® to create a series of online Pilates videos. She says regularity, and correct technique, are critical.

Related: “This is what happened when I tried a new exercise”

“The philosophy is to work from the inside out,” Kimberley says. “Results are very dependent on the individual and how far gone their pelvic floor is. Some women will require intervention, like specialised pelvic floor physiotherapy, but many will start to feel an amazing difference in 5-10 weeks.

"Some women will require intervention, like specialised pelvic floor physiotherapy, but many will start to feel an amazing difference in 5-10 weeks."

“It’s important to consider how long it’s taken for the condition to develop, and how long you might have put up with it; it won’t change overnight because it didn’t happen overnight.”

And she has a tip for women who aren’t quite sure what to say if they suffer LBL but want to go to a group Pilates class.

“Simply say to the instructor ‘this is my first class, I'd like to focus on my pelvic floor and core. Can you assist me to ensure I won’t harm those muscles?

She also suggests women with LBL examine their current exercise program, and cut out anything that’s putting downward pressure on their pelvic floor.

That includes sit-ups, roll-ups and squats (to start with, at least). “You want exercises where your head and shoulders are in contact with the mat.”

Kimberley’s videos are free to watch; she simply suggests you get clearance from a medical practitioner before you do them. Then it’s a matter of starting at a comfortable level.

“Any person can do it and benefit, the elderly and the young. There’s not one person I wouldn't be able to help. And it changes people’s lives.”

Have you ever experienced light bladder leakage? How did you overcome it?