You’re out jogging at the park, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. Suddenly, you’re stopped in your tracks by a strong urge to pee. You grit your teeth, roll your eyes at the bladder control gods, and walk to the restrooms — but they’re closed for the weekend. You head across the street to a cafe, but the barista tells you they don’t have a public bathroom. Frustrated, you give up on your morning outside and head back to your car to drive home. And then it happens.
In a situation like this one, it’s understandable to feel embarrassed, overwhelmed, and even helpless. But you’re not alone—over 400 million people worldwide are affected by bladder leakage —and you’re not powerless. There are a number of things you can do to develop better bladder control and live a fuller life.
Let’s explore some immediate and long-term techniques you can use to take control of your incontinence.
Techniques For When You Have To Go NOW
Bladder leakage can happen when a strong urge to go comes on suddenly and unexpectedly. In these moments, it’s important stay calm. Try one of these techniques to find temporary relief and buy some time to get to the nearest restroom.
Using your breath is a simple but powerful way to refocus your mind and calm your body when your bladder is sending you loud signals.
- How It Works: When you feel a sudden urge to urinate, put your hands on your lower ribs and abdomen. Breathe deeply, letting your breath expand to fill your hands, then exhale slowly. Continue breathing in and out until the urge diminishes.
- How It Helps: In a situation where leakage seems imminent, deep breathing can help you contract your muscles in a way that momentarily calms your bladder.
Acupressure—an ancient Chinese healing art that uses finger pressure on key points on the body to stimulate natural self-curative abilities—is used to bring relief from pain, illness, and stress. It can also be an effective way to help with bladder control and prevent accidental bladder leakage.
- How It Works: Find the acupressure point 3-4 fingers’ width above your ankle on the inside of your shin bone. Press into this point firmly with your thumb for about a minute when you feel the urge to go.
- How It Helps: Pressing on this pressure point can help reduce feelings of urgency and give you time to get to the bathroom before a leak happens.
When you need to go and can get to the restroom quickly, double voiding can be a great technique to help with bladder control.
- How It Works: After you urinate, wait a few minutes and then try going again.
- How It Helps: Double voiding can help you empty your bladder more completely so you have more time before you need to go again. It also helps to empty any drops that might be hanging around in your urethra. This is handy if you’ll be in a car, on public transit, or outside without easy access to a bathroom.
Techniques For Bladder Control In The Long-Term
When incontinence strikes, having some quick-fix techniques in your back pocket can make you feel more in control. But there are a few other techniques you can use to improve bladder control for the future, too.
Kegels (Pelvic Floor Exercises)
Your pelvic floor muscles—the muscles you use to stop the flow of urine mid-stream— support your bladder. When they’re out of shape, bladder control can go out the window. This means that bladder leaks are more likely to occur, especially if you cough, sneeze, or move vigorously. Kegels are and other pelvic floor exercises can improve bladder control over time. (Caveat: if you have leaks because your muscles are too tight, Kegels can make it worse. So it’s always good to start with a conversation with your doctor).
- How It Works: Squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and hold the contraction for five seconds, then relax for five seconds. Do this a few times in a row. Over time, work up to doing 10 contractions in a row (with 10-second rests in between).
- How It Helps: Performing three sets of 10-second kegels a day can help you strengthen your pelvic floor and prevent surprise bladder leaks. It’s an easy workout routine you can do anytime, anywhere!
Bladder Control Training
Instead of waiting for the urge to strike, it can help to schedule regular bathroom breaks until you retrain your bladder to need relief every few hours.
- How it Works: Instead of waiting until you feel the urge to go, schedule trips to the bathroom every two to four hours. Every week or two, increase the amount of time between trips by 10 to 15 minutes. The goal is to lengthen the time between trips to the toilet until you’re urinating only every 2.5 to 3.5 hours so it’s less disruptive to your daily routine.
- How it Helps: Over time, bladder training can help teach your body to listen to your brain so you make fewer trips to the bathroom. Bladder training can also help you avoid high-urgency situations when leakage is more likely to happen.
Everything you eat and drink passes through your bladder. If you notice a pattern of bladder leakage when you have certain foods or beverages, you may want to make some changes to your diet to help with bladder control.
- How It Works: Keep a bladder diary of foods and drinks that irritate your bladder and cause urgent trips to the bathroom. Common culprits include alcohol, caffeine, spicy foods, acidic foods like citrus, and artificial sweeteners. If you find yourself urinating frequently, you may also want to check with your doctor to make sure you’re not over-hydrating.
- How It Helps: Avoiding foods that irritate your bladder and drinking the right amount of fluids can reduce feelings of urgency and prevent bladder leakage, especially when you don’t have immediate access to a bathroom.
Pelvic Floor Stimulation (PFS)
Stimulating your pelvic floor with electric currents can help build up the muscles so you can you hold your own against strong urges.
- How It Works: Using an at-home vaginal or anal electrode unit, you’ll stimulate your pelvic floor muscles. The timing and duration of electrical stimulation can vary depending on what your doctor recommends. For example, your treatment may consist of 15-minute stimulation sessions twice a day over 12 weeks.
- How It Helps: Electrical stimulation helps strengthen the pelvic muscles over time, giving you better control of your bladder. Doctors are still trying to figure out exactly why electrical stimulation helps with incontinence. It might make the muscles contract, which gives them a workout. Or, it may encourage the growth of nerve cells that help with muscle contraction. Either way, it works!
A Recap Of Bladder Leakage Management Techniques
Living with incontinence can feel like a burden, but with the right tools and approaches, you can improve bladder control and reduce the number of leaks that disrupt your routine.
- When you feel a sudden urge to go, try deep breathing, acupressure, or double voiding to prevent leaks.
- Build up your pelvic floor muscles over time using Kegels, bladder training, electrical stimulation, or other pelvic floor exercises.
- Keep a bladder diary to figure out which foods or drinks trigger your incontinence. Then, consume those foods and drinks less frequently or avoid them altogether.
As a backup, always keep some incontinence pads or underwear in your bag or car—especially if you’re planning to be physically active. Even with these management techniques, unexpected bladder leakage can still happen, and it’s better to be prepared.
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Got tricks up your sleeve to control pesky drips and dribbles? Share your wisdom in the comments!