London: It is an excruciatingly embarrassing and distressing condition, yet an incredibly common one affecting five million British women and two million men.

For sufferers of urinary incontinence, this often sniggered-at problem can impact on almost every daily activity and interaction.

Many treatments are available but few last or work well, and they come with unwanted side effects.

The causes of a leaky bladder range from pregnancy to muscle weakness and poor nerve communication, and the lengths people go to rid themselves of it are equally extensive.

But now a new treatment called percutaneous tibial nerve stimulation, which involves an electrical current being channelled through the ankle, is having remarkable results with those who suffer a type of incontinence known as overactive bladder (OAB).

The treatment involves a small needle being inserted into the tibial nerve that runs from the bottom of the spine to the sole of the foot. This nerve contains nerve fibres that start from the same place as nerves that run to the bladder and pelvic-floor muscles.

During a 30-minute session a grounding electrode is attached to the foot and a needle electrode is inserted into the ankle. An electric current is sent through the needle, which travels along the tibial nerve pathway. It is thought the electrical current, from an external pulse generator, reduces the errant nerve signals by briefly confusing the nerves in the bladder muscles and this restores normal nerve behaviour.

Up to 12 weekly sessions are administered, and another is required between three and six months later.