You know treatment for prostate cancer can save your life. But some of its side effects, particularly incontinence, can feel downright unmanly. And even if you were in shape previously, cancer treatment can sap your energy, as well as put you at risk for muscle and bone loss. The solution: Get moving.
Use the Squeeze Play
The prostate sits right in the middle of your plumbing, and during radiation treatment or surgery, some of your valves — particularly the band of muscles known as the urinary sphincters, which control the flow of urine from your bladder — may be damaged. This can cause temporary (though occasionally permanent) urinary incontinence. Additionally, the rectum can be damaged during radiation, which can result in bowel problems, such as diarrhea.
The good news: There’s a workout for that. Kegel exercises help tone the pelvic floor muscles, which support the bladder and bowel. The stronger these muscles, the better your bladder and bowel control. A study published in the Journal of Urology found that men who did Kegel exercises before and after surgery were more likely to have regained continence three months after their surgery.
First, identify the right muscles. Sit comfortably and relax your thighs, buttocks and abdomen. Imagine you’re urinating, then try to stop the flow midstream. Try not to use your abdominal muscles or any other muscles in that area. When tightening the pelvic floor muscles correctly, you may feel a slight dip at the base of the penis, and your scrotum will move up slightly. Now tighten the ring of muscle around your anus, as if you were trying to stop passing gas. Don’t squeeze with the buttocks or tighten your abdomen.
If you are unable to do either of these, talk to your doctor. A physiotherapist can help teach you the proper technique. Or a technique called biofeedback can give you visual or audio feedback to ensure you’re contracting the correct muscles.
A final note: If you tend to leak urine when you cough, laugh or sneeze, “squeeze before you sneeze,” says O’Dougherty.
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