Acupressure, or the stimulation of acupuncture points without needles, may be used to complement a variety of treatment programs. Not a cure in itself, it can potentially increase the effectiveness of other treatment methods. Incontinence is a condition characterized by loss of bladder or bowel control. Typically occurring in older adults, incontinence can interrupt your daily life. Studies show that acupressure may augment incontinence treatment therapies. Talk to your doctor about your condition before trying acupressure.
Causes of Incontinence
Most bladder control problems occur due to weak or overactive bladder muscles, according to Medline Plus. Muscle and nerve damage, as well as constipation and diarrhea, can cause fecal incontinence. Sneezing, laughing, jumping or lifting heavy objects can cause urine or stool to leak, and you may feel a strong urge to go to the bathroom frequently. Pregnancy, neurological disorders, surgery and cancers can also lead to issues with elimination control.
Chinese Medicine Theory
Chinese medicine theory believes incontinence to be a deficiency of energy, or qi. As “gates,” the bladder and anal sphincters need significant energy to function properly. Urinary incontinence is thought to stem from issues with kidney energy, so acupressure and acupuncture treatments may focus on increasing kidney qi. Points along the bladder meridian may also be stimulated to help control urine flow. The spleen is thought to influence transportation and transformation fluids and foods, and is also responsible for developing the body’s muscles. Controlling stool elimination can relate to muscle function, so treatment for fecal incontinence may involve the spleen.
Your practitioner may choose kidney point 3, located behind the inner ankle bone, to improve your kidney qi. It is often used for frequent and copious urination and may also relieve constipation. Similarly, she may select kidney 6 to improve bladder control issues. This point is found below the inner ankle bone between the two tendons that appear when you flex your foot. Kidney 7 is approximately 2 inches above the ankle bone and aligned with kidney 3. A practitioner may choose this point to alleviate fecal incontinence due to diarrhea or dysenteric disorders. Spleen point 6 – located 3 inches above the ankle bone -- purportedly strengthens spleen qi and helps with diarrhea, flatulence and runny stools. Another point your practitioner may choose is conception vessel 4. This point, located about 3 inches below the belly button, strengthens muscles, improves kidney and spleen energy and helps with fecal incontinence.
Recent research suggests that acupuncture and acupressure are helpful additions to incontinence treatment plans. A January 2009 study published in “Autonomic Neuroscience” found that participants who received acupuncture for fecal incontinence experienced significant improvement in bowel control. The “Chinese Journal of Surgery” found acupuncture, in addition to pelvic floor muscle exercises, to be a beneficial strategy for decreasing urinary incontinence. The study, published in September 2010, tested participants recovering from prostate surgery. The experimental group saw more improvement than controls who only used pelvic floor muscle exercises.
- MedlinePlus: Urinary Incontinence
- Institute for Traditional Medicine: The Spleen/Stomach
- "A Manual of Acupuncture"; P. Deadman, et al.; 2001
- "Autonomic Neuroscience"; Fecal Incontinence Treated with Acupuncture; M. Scaglia, et al.; January 2009
- "Chinese Journal of Surgery"; The Study of Electrical Acupuncture Stimulation Therapy; B.S. Yang, et al.; September 2010
Christy Callahan has been researching and writing in the integrative health care field for over five years, focusing on neuro-endocrinology. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in biology, earned credits toward a licensure in traditional Chinese medicine and is a certified Pilates and sport yoga instructor.