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“Pelvic health physiotherapy can be life-changing for prostate cancer survivors”

16 Nov 2022

This Movember, Pelvic Health Physiotherapist Marta De Oliveira highlights the benefits of pelvic floor muscle training for people being treated for prostate cancer.

Marta De Oliveira

Each November, also known as “Movember”, many people put down their shavers and instead wear moustaches to fundraise for projects relating to men’s health issues.

With prostate cancer being one of the most common cancers, resulting in 143 new cases diagnosed in the UK each day, what better time to raise awareness for this disease and the way it impacts people’s lives?

For instance, owing to the location of the prostate, just below the bladder and in front of the rectum, treatment for prostate cancer can cause complications such as disruption to urinary, bowel and sexual functions.

While a cancer diagnosis itself can be life-changing, these added complications often cause further physical and psychological difficulties for patients.

For instance, according to Pelvic Health Physiotherapist Marta De Oliveira, one of the most common and widely known side effects is urinary incontinence, with around 70% of people experiencing problems controlling their bladder six months after their prostate is removed in a process known as “prostatectomy”.

“Incontinence, or stress urinary incontinence, can occur unexpectedly when coughing, sneezing, laughing, running or lifting heavy objects,” says Marta.

“A sudden urge to urinate, or 'urinary urgency', can lead to leaks if a toilet isn’t available. This is known as urgency urinary incontinence or an overactive bladder.”

Meanwhile, people treated for prostate cancer can experience side effects including erectile dysfunction, difficulty controlling bowel movements, muscle deconditioning and fatigue.

“Understandably, many may feel embarrassed to talk about these symptoms and will be less likely to mention it to their healthcare practitioners, who can ultimately offer solutions,” says Marta.

How can pelvic health physiotherapy help?

Pelvic floor physiotherapy and men’s health physiotherapy use a set of strategies and exercises to help improve the function of the pelvic floor muscles that run from the pubic bone to the bottom of the spine.

These muscles support the area where the bladder, bowel and sexual organs are located, and therefore strengthening them can improve their function and remedy many of the side effects people experience.

“The benefits of pelvic health physiotherapy can be life-changing for so many patients I work with,” says Marta.

Marta works with patients on a one-to-one basis before and after surgery, teaching them how to activate their muscles correctly. 

“We use techniques that improve pelvic floor muscle activation. This can include biofeedback, which uses electrical sensors to allow an individual to gain greater awareness and control over bodily functions that are usually involuntary. We also use bladder training strategies to help patients better understand and control their bladder.”

For optimal recovery after surgical treatment for prostate cancer, Marta recommends starting the exercises before any treatment begins in order to build up muscle strength and endurance. 

“Starting a pelvic floor muscle training programme before a prostatectomy not only significantly improves any symptoms of urinary incontinence quickly, but it can also help to reduce the chances of it becoming an issue in the first place,” says Marta.

“Ultimately, practicing the exercises before surgery means a patient can initiate the exercises they’ve become familiar with as soon as the catheter used during surgery is removed.”

What are pelvic floor exercises?

Our pelvic floor muscles can be tricky to locate and activate, but like other forms of exercise and muscle training, practice and professional guidance can help.

“We teach patients how to hold long and short squeezes of the muscles around the front and back passages, as if they are trying to prevent wind or urine from escaping. This shouldn’t involve too much straining or clenching if it’s being done correctly,” says Marta.

“The muscles are deep muscles that usually work automatically, so if someone’s not able to locate and activate these, they shouldn’t worry. It’s completely normal, and a pelvic health or men’s health physiotherapist will be able to help.”

The London Clinic is home to a team of prostate cancer experts, including urologists, urology continence nurse specialists and pelvic/men’s health physiotherapists. 

Find out more about treatment for prostate cancer and oncology physiotherapy.

Book an appointment with Marta De Oliveira.