Yoga for Incontinence? A Small Pilot Study Shows Some Benefit

April 30, 2014

Strengthening pelvic floor muscles through yoga just may be helpful for women with urinary incontinence, particularly stress incontinence.

A six-week yoga program improved urinary incontinence in ambulatory women aged 40 years and older.

The small pilot study, published in the American Urogynecologic Society’s journal, Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery, found that women with stress, urgency, or mixed urinary incontinence who were randomized to a six-week, twice-weekly yoga therapy class saw total incontinence frequency decreased by 70%. Women in the control group, who were assigned to a once-weekly home practice or a wait-list, saw total incontinence reduced by 13%. 

Pertinent Points

- A six-week yoga program helped older women with urinary incontinence, a small pilot study found.

- The program was designed to help women be more aware of and have more control over their pelvic floor muscles.

"We thought this would be a good opportunity for women to use yoga to become more aware of and have more control over their pelvic floor muscles," said first author Alison Huang, MD, assistant professor in the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine, in a news release.

Participants in the yoga therapy group also reported an average of 71% decrease in stress incontinence frequency compared with a 25% increase in controls (P = 0.039). However, there were no significant differences in the reduction of urgency incontinence.

On enrollment, the 19 participants, on average, had 2.5 incontinence episodes a day and the mean age of the women was 61 years. All women starting the yoga therapy program completed at least 90% of the group classes and practice sessions. Changes in incontinence were assessed with 7-day voiding diaries.

"Yoga is often directed at mindful awareness, increasing relaxation, and relieving anxiety and stress," Huang said. "For these reasons, yoga has been directed at a variety of other conditions-metabolic syndrome or pain syndromes-but there's also a reason to think that it could help for incontinence as well."

The yoga program was specifically designed for older women and was cognizant of women who have minor mobility limitations, Huang said, noting that not all forms of yoga would necessarily help with urinary incontinence.

Next, the researchers plan to extend the length of the study to 12 weeks.