According to the Canadian Cancer Society, 21,300 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2017 (1). This represents 21% of all new cancer cases in men. Thankfully, due to advancements in early detection and treatment methods, cure rates are very high. Conversely, this also means that men are living longer with the commonly reported symptoms of urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction post prostate surgery. Reports of post prostatectomy urinary incontinence ranges from 1-90% and almost 60% of men who have prostate surgery will report some form of erectile dysfunction 18 months later (2,3).
Pelvic Floor physiotherapy
During prostatectomy surgery, the internal urethral sphincter is removed along with the prostate. The internal urethral sphincter (involuntary control) and the external urethral sphincter (voluntary control) act to provide a “double stop” system to close the urethra and prevent unwanted leakage of urine. The pelvic floor muscles are required to compensate for the loss of function of the internal urethral sphincter. If the pelvic floor muscles are weak, urine can leak during activities such as coughing, laughing and sneezing. This is referred to as stress urinary incontinence. Pelvic floor physiotherapy focuses on strength, endurance, and optimizing coordination of the pelvic floor muscles to help meet the new demand that has been placed on them. In fact, research suggests there is a great benefit in initiating pelvic floor physiotherapy prior to prostatectomy surgery to help reduce the duration and severity of early urinary incontinence (4,5,6).
Prostate surgery attempts to spare and preserve the nerves that supply the penis and pelvic floor muscles, but nerves may still be manipulated and be damaged. This can contribute to a decrease in erection quality. Nerves are slow to recover and require a lot of oxygen for optimal healing. Pelvic floor physiotherapy focuses on optimizing the flexibility and contractility of the pelvic floor muscles, thereby increasing oxygen rich blood and nutrient exchange to the injured muscles and nerves. Pelvic floor physiotherapy provides guidance on how to increase the strength and endurance of these specific muscles.
The goals of pre and post-surgical pelvic floor physiotherapy include the following:
- Restore and/or increase the strength, endurance, and flexibility of the pelvic floor muscles.
- Ensure the pelvic floor muscles are properly coordinated with other core muscles during dynamic movements (getting out of bed, getting up from a chair, coughing, sneezing)
- Assess and address pelvic alignment and postural symmetry
- Address possible constipation and/or voiding issues by providing education on optimal toileting positions and defecation dynamics to decrease pressure on the pelvic floor.
There are many resources that suggest men perform “kegels” to resolve urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction. While these exercises are beneficial for some, for others they may be detrimental and lead to a worsening of symptoms. This is why, it is of the utmost importance to be assessed by a trained pelvic floor physiotherapist. The therapist will be able to determine whether the pelvic floor muscles are appropriate for kegels or whether they may be to shortened/tight and therefore, excessive contracting of these muscles will simply create more dysfunction. In this case, therapy will focus on providing guidance on how to relax and lengthen the pelvic floor muscles thereby establishing a much more functional resting tone.
Pelvic floor physiotherapy improves urinary incontinence and erectile function after prostatectomy. If you will be undergoing prostate surgery, book an appointment with a pelvic health physiotherapist to help you on your journey to health and recovery.
Leeanna Maher, Registered Physiotherapist
Content provided by
The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) represents physiotherapists, physiotherapist assistants and physiotherapist students across Canada. CPA members are rehabilitation professionals dedicated to the health, mobility and fitness of Canadians.
Physiotherapists are primary health care professionals who combine their in-depth knowledge of the body and how it works with specialized hands-on clinical skills to assess, diagnose and treat symptoms of illness, injury or disability.
More than 20,000 registered physiotherapists work in Canada, in private clinics, general and rehabilitation hospitals, community health centres, residential care and assisted-living facilities, home visit agencies, workplaces, and schools.
The CPA presents its educational references as a public service and for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the opinions of the CPA membership.