PTNS: Wave Goodbye To OAB

PTNS: What even is that? Percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation sounds like a big ol’ intimidating mouthful of words. But, it actually refers to a quick procedure that can help ease a got-to-go bladder, AKA, an overactive bladder. Keep reading to learn exactly what this procedure is and if it would be helpful to you!

PTNS Explained

You would think that with a name as intimidating as percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation, there’d be a surgery involved. But this procedure is nonsurgical. As a matter of fact, it’s more like acupuncture, making it an attractive option for those who’ve had little luck with medication, but aren’t quite ready to go under the knife. 

Most commonly referred to by its acronym, PTNS, this quick treatment helps stimulate a group of nerves called the sacral nerve plexus. These nerves put the bladder in check by regulating bladder function and controlling the bowel’s lower end (aka rectum). Your doctor will stimulate your nerves by using a long and thin acupuncture needle and inserting it into the skin above the ankle. 

Do I Need PTNS? 

You may be wondering if this treatment is the right thing for you. Well, let’s just say, 2 out of 3 people with overactive bladder symptoms noticed a less leaky bladder after PTNS. If you find yourself dealing with bothersome symptoms like the ones mentioned below, then PTNS might be something to consider: 

  • Urinary frequency 
  • Urgency (Give our Lily Bird products a try to help prevent leaks when the urge strikes out of nowhere
  • Urinary incontinence (leaking) 
  • Nocturia (having to wake up at night to go to the bathroom) 
  • Difficulty with completely emptying the bladder
  • Fecal incontinence (having issues going number 2 or passing gas)

Now, you may have read the above list and said to yourself, “sign me up,” but hold your horses. Doctors recommend PTNS for those who have tried standard treatment methods, such as lifestyle or avoiding bladder irritants, along with some medications, and didn’t find relief. If this is you, you may definitely want to talk to your provider about PTNS.

Now, Let’s Get Into The Procedure

During the PTNS procedure, you’re typically seated with your foot comfortably elevated and supported. Your doctor will place a slim needle electrode near a nerve at the ankle known as the tibial nerve (hence the name). There’s a device connected to this electrode that is turned on to send gentle electric pulses to the tibial nerve. These pulses then travel to the sacral nerve plexus. Remember those?

Stimulating these nerves can change bladder activity for the better, but the effects come on gradually. So that means it’s not a one-and-done type of deal. Patients actually have to go in for a series of about 12 weekly sessions that usually last around 30 minutes. After the 12 treatments, the doctor assesses your symptoms. This assessment determines if a few more spaced out treatments may be needed. 

It’s important to remember that PTNS is not surgery, so patients rarely have major discomfort. There are some side effects, like a little redness or some mild discomfort in the simulation. It seems like a small price to pay for an effective, non-invasive treatment that could help alleviate overactive bladder symptoms, don’t you think? 

Here are Some of the Positives Behind this Procedure:

  • 60% to 80% of patients improve their symptoms with PTNS 
  • PTNS is a low-risk procedure that generally has no lingering side effects
  • People who do well during the first series of treatments usually only need occasional appointments after that to keep up the results 
  • PTNS is generally described as being painless! If anything, people who have gotten this form of treatment describe having the sensation of “tingling” or “pulsing” in the foot or the ankle

Now, Why Shouldn’t I get PTNS? 

Unfortunately, as with any procedure, some people just don’t qualify for this form of treatment. Fortunately, the list of exclusions is short, and it is mainly due to other medical conditions. If you’ve got any of the following conditions, then PTNS may not be for you: 

  • You have a pacemaker or implantable defibrillators
  • You’re prone to excessive bleeding
  • You are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant in the very near future
  • You already have some form of nerve damage that could impact either the tibial nerve or pelvic floor function

Say Goodbye To OAB With PTNS

Having an overactive bladder is no fun. Having to go to the bathroom all the time can definitely be a pain in everyday living. While various treatments for overactive bladder exist, sometimes you just need something that really goes deep. This is why PTNS is such a preferred treatment method because you’re essentially sending a wake-up signal for your nerves to put in the work with your bladder. PTNS is a low-risk procedure with minimal short-term side effects, so if this is something that interests you, reach out to your doctor to see if it is a good option for you.

And while you wait for your appointment, Lily Bird has you covered with pads and underwear for those “can’t-quite-make-it-there” days. 

By Jessica Thomas, MPH