PILATES may help women with urinary incontinence, a three-year pilot study at Colchester General Hospital has shown.

The study, funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), was carried out jointly with academics from the School of Health and Human Sciences and the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Essex University.

It found that classes in Modified Pilates were most beneficial to women whose symptoms were less severe. In addition, the study found there were also some benefits for those women whose condition was more serious.

Modified Pilates is a mind-body technique involving slow, controlled movements focusing on posture and breathing.

The chief investigator in the pilot study was Samantha Head, a physiotherapist at Colchester General Hospital.

She said: “Urinary incontinence is a distressing condition affecting more than five million women in the UK.

“It is often the impact of the patient’s symptoms which are so distressing, affecting women’s quality of life, self-esteem and social interaction. Urinary incontinence may also become a barrier to regular physical and fitness activities. "This withdrawal may threaten women’s general health and wellbeing.

“The findings from the pilot study are sufficiently encouraging for us to develop a larger clinical trial, the findings from which could ultimately influence the treatment of urinary incontinence for women throughout the country.”

The NIHR awarded Colchester Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, which runs Colchester General Hospital, and Essex University, funding for the 33-month study.

A total of 73 women took part.

All received pelvic floor exercises and lifestyle advice, with a second group also attending a six-week course of Modified Pilates classes.

Both groups were assessed at the start of the study, when they completed their treatment, and five months later. Questionnaires explored topics such as severity of symptoms, frequency of incontinence, quality of life, and self-esteem.