BUCKSPORT — The next time you’re driving to Bangor or Portland and wishing you’d taken a bathroom break at the last gas station you passed, try spelling your first name backward.
That can trick your brain to stop urging your bladder that it needs to pee, according to Kacey Hutchins, a Blue Hill Memorial Hospital physical therapist who specializes in pelvic rehabilitation.
Hutchins has begun giving monthly pelvic floor workshops, with coffee, wine and a lot of laughs at The Local Variety on Main Street in Bucksport.
The workshops are free, but you need to register in advance on the Variety’s Facebook page, as space is limited.
Hutchins said the urge to urinate is a brain function. As such, the brain can be tricked.
By spelling your name backward, “you’re literally calming down the frontal lobe,” Hutchins said. “You shift to a different center of your brain to calm down the bladder contractions.”
Do you have a really short first name like Sue? Then count backward from 99 by threes. Or try spelling backward all the first names of the people in your office.
During a recent workshop, Hutchins discussed general anatomy and physiology of the pelvic floor, which includes the following organs: uterus, vagina, bladder and rectum. She also explained how bladders work, strategies to control the urge to go and how to properly perform kegel or pelvic muscle exercises.
Childbirth, surgery, excess weight and age can all affect the vitality of your pelvic muscles. Without strong pelvic muscles, women are more susceptible to overactive bladders among other issues.
Hutchins also explained two varieties of incontinence.
If you pee when you sneeze or laugh, that’s called stress incontinence.
“We can retrain that reflex,” Hutchins said.
If you’ve had cesarean sections or any pelvic surgery, you may have scar tissue. That scar tissue “impairs neurologic flow,” Hutchins said. “We’ve known this forever; we just have talked about this.”
The other variety of incontinence is called “urge incontinence” and that happens when “you start leaking on the way to the bathroom,” Hutchins said.
“It is not normal to pee your pants,” she said. “It is not part of the aging process. It is common.”
Prescription medicines will not help stress incontinence, Hutchins said. “It’s a reflex.”
Do you enjoy coffee and alcohol?
Those are two of the biggest irritants for your bladder.
Another significant irritant is artificial sweetener.
“When a bladder gets irritated, it starts contracting, signaling your brain to pee,” Hutchins said. “The number one cause of urgency is more what we’re consuming than anything else.” One solution is to change your liquid diet.
Hutchins recalled a patient who was on the verge of having bladder surgery because of frequent urination.
The woman kept insisting to Hutchins that she drank water all day long. Finally Hutchins had her bring in an example of the water. The woman had been consuming grape-flavored artificially-sweetened “water” all day. Hutchins had the woman switch to actual plain water and her bladder symptoms disappeared. She avoided surgery.
“It’s that profound,” Hutchins said.
What’s a “normal” number of times for a woman to pee every day? About seven to eight, she said. A normal stream of pee lasts about 8 to 10 seconds.
“If you’re peeing for just three or four seconds, you need to work on delaying” visits to the bathroom, Hutchins said.
Kegels or pelvic muscle exercises are also important for strengthening the pelvic floor.
You may have been told to practice stopping the flow of urine. But there’s a more effective method.
“You squeeze your anus like you’re going to stop a bowel movement,” Hutchins said. This exercise ideally should be done while lying on your side and you should work up to 100 a day.
“If you can do 100, we’re probably never going to meet,” Hutchins said.
Hutchins practices in Blue Hill and at Bucksport Rehabilitation Services. She has a counterpart, Cadie Saucier, a pelvic rehab physical therapist, who practices at Maine Coast Memorial Hospital.
In addition to helping women reclaim their pelvic muscles, Hutchins is working to educate physicians and other primary care providers about pelvic rehabilitation. Hutchins said she encounters gynecologists and urologists who aren’t aware of what she does.
“I am on a task force to educate providers,” she said. “It’s something there needs to be a lot more education about.”