Pauline Chiarelli

The bits below the belt

Pauline Chiarelli talks about “the bits below the belt. The bits no one wants to talk about,” she says.

Pauline is an Associate Professor in Physiotherapy in the School of Health Sciences at the University of Newcastle. She is also Australia’s first Physiotherapist Continence Advisor. Her widely known and used pamphlet, One in Three Women Who Have Ever Had a Baby Wet Themselves, and her book, Women’s Waterworks: Curing Incontinence, have helped countless women worldwide beat incontinence and the associated side effects.

“Much of the work I do is for the community,” says Pauline. “I am research-focused because I know that without it the profession is going nowhere. But I also do lots of things in my capacity as a Continence Advisor which don’t necessarily impact upon my role as an academic.”

Pauline’s quest to “dry up Australia” involves collaborating with other health professionals and working towards the same goal.

“People think incontinence is an old person’s problem,” she says. “But nothing could be further from the truth. I am talking to aged care nurses, but I’m also talking to midwives, Pilates instructors, fitness professionals, radiation therapists and nurses. It’s not about my career, it’s about helping as many people as possible realise that incontinence can be cured.”

Pauline has adopted the health promotion principles she has trained in and combined them with over forty years as a physiotherapist and childbirth educator. Her booklet goes out in the baby bundle, informing thousands of expectant mums what to expect of their pelvic floor muscles after birth, and her book is a bestseller.

According to Pauline, continence experts say they are constantly recommending her book to people, although she says that some of the most important feedback is not from medical professionals, but from readers who have managed to overcome their problems.

Pauline regularly reviews articles for newspapers and magazines. She also appears on television to talk about lower urinary tract symptoms, and was an inaugural member of the Continence Foundation of Australia. She writes for women’s magazines, conducts pelvic floor workshops for health professionals and has given talks at local community groups such as Probus and Rotary. Currently, she is talking to prostate cancer support groups.

“I’ve developed a no-holds-barred DVD on pelvic floor exercises for men,” says Pauline. “It’s designed to help Australian men understand their pelvic floor muscles and to improve continence pre and post prostate cancer treatment.

“The men love it because it calls a spade a spade. But what’s the point in calling it anything else? I need to let people know that incontinence can be cured, and my knowledge of health promotion tells me direct delivery is the best way to do it.”

Pauline’s communication skills were again put to good use as she reviewed and rewrote the pamphlets for the government funded bladder and bowel website, to make them clearer and easier to understand. She is also collaborating with Women’s Health Australia about preventative healthcare for constipation and incontinence.

Pauline’s reputation extends far beyond the boundaries of the University, and it’s mainly through her community engagement work that she manages to get her message out there.

“I don’t get research points if a Pilates instructor incorporates pelvic floor exercises into an exercise class,” she says, “but if one more person learns how to control their potentially embarrassing incontinence problem, then that’s enough for me.”


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