It started about six years ago for Joan.

After hip surgery, she slowed down — drastically. Along with a lack of exercise and fear of falling, she also suffered from incontinence.

Incontinence can be caused by problems with the muscles and nerves that help the bladder hold or pass urine. One in four women suffers from it. Ninety percent of residents in nursing homes end up there because of it.

Michelle Day, MPT, a Women’s Pelvic Health physical therapist at Think, focuses on bladder, bowel and pelvic pain issues in women. Therapy includes thorough education and treatment to address pelvic floor muscle flexibility, coordination and strength. Michelle’s practice emphasizes strategies to address the nervous system as well.

“Anxiety, depression and stress can exhibit themselves through physical conditions, including pelvic floor issues,” Day said. “By collaborating with doctors, mental health providers, specialists and care managers, we can get to the core of what is causing the symptoms and provide a physical therapy approach to improve their function.”

Joan was referred to Day by her Think doctor. With therapy, she now walks the mall three times a week with walking sticks to strengthen her core. She also does a daily exercise routine while standing at her kitchen sink.

“Aging is a process we all go through, but it doesn’t have to mean an end to being active,” she said.

Another client of Day’s, a retired nurse, couldn’t pick up her 13-month-old granddaughter without experiencing incontinence problems.

After her doctor referred her to Women’s Pelvic Health physical therapy, she saw improvement in her bladder control after the fourth session.

“She (Day) is so positive and has given me so much confidence,” the 77-year-old said. Now she exercises every day at the YMCA and teaches a class that gets Parkinson’s patients moving.

Both Day’s clients admit they would never have talked with their doctor about incontinence; you just didn’t do that 40 years ago. Think doctors ask patients about it now.

“We’re giving them tools and strategies, so they can overcome their incontinence issues,” Day said. “That improves their health by keeping them active and socially engaged, resulting in fewer visits to the doctor’s office.”

Physical therapy is a first-line treatment proven through research to be the most effective before the use of surgery, alternative treatments like Lasers, and medication. It’s covered by Medicare.

“Unfortunately, urinary incontinence is a very common problem, especially for women,” said Dr. Debra Esser, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s chief medical officer. “Physical therapy is so beneficial, and you can improve your symptoms dramatically.”

Day’s patient, the retired nurse, said: “Don’t hesitate, go find out and you will love your results.”