Students Staff

15 February 2016

Pilates - fresh hope for women

Samantha Head (right) demonstrates the Modified Pilates technique with her physiotherapist colleague, Tanya Jewell.

Samantha Head demonstrates the Modified Pilates technique with her physiotherapist colleague, Tanya Jewell

Pilates may help women with urinary incontinence, a three-year pilot study involving the Universty of Essex and women’s health physiotherapists at Colchester General Hospital has shown.

The study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), was carried out jointly with academics from the School of Health and Human Sciences and the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Essex.

It found that classes in Modified Pilates were most beneficial to women whose symptoms were less severe. In addition, the study found that there were also some benefits for those women whose condition was more serious.

Modified Pilates is a mind-body technique involving slow, controlled movements focusing on posture and breathing.

The chief investigator in the pilot study was Samantha Head, a physiotherapist at Colchester General Hospital.

“Urinary incontinence is a distressing condition affecting more than five million women in the UK,” she said.

“It is often the impact of the patient’s symptoms which are so distressing, affecting women’s quality of life, self-esteem and social interaction. Urinary incontinence may also become a barrier to regular physical and fitness activities. This withdrawal may threaten women’s general health and wellbeing.

“The findings from the pilot study are sufficiently encouraging for us to develop a larger clinical trial, the findings from which could ultimately influence the treatment of urinary incontinence for women throughout the country.”

Stigma with incontinence issues is often a barrier to woman coming forward for help, she added.

Miss Head said that in the 2014 annual report of the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies had concentrated on women’s health and the associated taboos.

“Professor Dame Sally Davies states that many women’s health issues should be discussed more easily, and embarrassment should never be a barrier to better health,” she said. “The research project within the Women’s and Men’s Health Physiotherapy Team at Colchester General Hospital is committed to trying to tackle these health difficulties.”

The NIHR awarded Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation rust, which runs Colchester General Hospital, and the University of Essex, funding for the 33-month study, which was called “Modified Pilates as an adjunct to Standard Physiotherapy Care for Urinary Incontinence.”

The development of the trial was supported by the NIHR Research Design Service, East of England, which is based at the University of Essex.

Treatment for female urinary incontinence has traditionally involved pelvic floor muscle exercises (the muscles that control continence mechanisms) but, more recently, Modified Pilates has been suggested as an additional means of improving symptoms and the quality of life of sufferers.

A total of 73 women were recruited into the pilot study. All received pelvic floor exercises and lifestyle advice, with a second group also attending a six-week course of Modified Pilates classes.

Both groups were assessed at the start of the study, when they completed their treatment, and five months later. Questionnaires explored topics such as severity of symptoms, frequency of incontinence, quality of life, and self-esteem. Sixteen participants were also interviewed about their experiences of the treatments.

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