Fecal incontinence, or bowel incontinence, is defined as the inability to control feces resulting in unexpected leakage. The severity of FI can range from slight leakage of fecal matter when passing gas to complete loss of bowel control. Fecal incontinence has been estimated at affecting 5-6 million Americans. So, this issue may not be commonly talked about but it is not a rare condition and can be very distressing and debilitating for those affected.
Causes of fecal incontinence can vary. The sphincters, or circular muscles, that control the passage of feces can become damaged by surgery, trauma, or childbirth. Conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease can exacerbate this issue by contributing to loose stools or diarrhea, that are more difficult for the muscles and sphincters to control. The sphincter’s function can also be altered by those that have undergone treatment for cancer such as radiation which can cause stiffening of the rectal wall and supporting tissues. In some cases, increasing age and deconditioning can affect the strength and coordination of the pelvic floor and external sphincter.
Some women may experience a condition called pelvic organ prolapse, in which the rectum can protrude into the vaginal canal or even a rectal prolapse where the rectum itself protrudes outside of the anal opening. These two conditions can contribute to fecal incontinence due to a change in the anatomy of the colon, rectum, and anus.
Physical therapy can help to ease or eliminate the symptoms of fecal incontinence. Physical therapists at Anderson Physical Therapy Associates are trained to specialize in pelvic floor rehabilitation. With a comprehensive pelvic floor evaluation, the PT will assess the pelvic floor anatomy, the sphincter strength, endurance, and coordination and will explain to you how this relates to your symptoms. The physical therapist will provide nutritional counseling, behavioral modification techniques, and targeted exercises for the pelvic floor that are individualized to you specifically so that you can regain normal control of the bowels.