If so, you are not alone.
Incontinence Among Female Runners
Urinary incontinence is defined as any involuntary loss of urine and is estimated to affect up to 55% of the female population. While this condition is extremely common, it is not normal and can be effectively treated.
It is a common misconception that only the elderly or women that have had children experience leakage of urine with activities such as coughing, sneezing and exercise. However, a study done by Nygaard found that even elite college varsity athletes complained of incontinence and 40% of these women first noticed symptoms while they were in high school. This dispels the notion that women who have given birth have trouble controling their bladder.
Unfortunately, the sports most likely to induce leakage were those that involved jumping and high impact landings such as gymnastics and running.
Incontinence may cause runners to feel too embarrassed or ashamed to run in a group or even give up running all together. If this is you, don’t despair! Physiotherapy is a proven effective treatment option for urinary incontinence.
Why Physiotherapy Alliviates Incontinence
As a physiotherapist that specializes in pelvic floor dysfunction, I commonly see women in my clinic who are frustrated because doing “old-school” Kegel exercises at home hasn’t cured their incontinence. One reason for this may be that studies have shown that up to half of women do Kegel exercise incorrectly.
The pelvic floor muscles are like a hammock deep in your pelvis that span lengthwise between your pubic bone and tailbone and spread horizontally between your sit bones. Their strength is necessary for optimal bowel/bladder control, sexual function and core strength. These muscles work in coordination with the deep abdominal and back muscles and with the diaphragm.
Exercises to Reduce Incontinence in Runners
Since Kegels alone cannot stop urinary leakage, an effective pelvic floor-strengthening program addresses all these muscle groups in coordination with one another. Many runners have tight hip flexors, tight hamstrings, weak buttocks and a tight diaphragm. This muscle imbalance puts the pelvic floor muscles at a significant mechanical disadvantage.
Pelvic Floor Strengthening Exercise Tips
- Don’t squeeze inner thigh, buttock/hip muscles or hold your breath while doing Kegels.
- Isolate your pelvic floor by pulling up and in as though you are trying to stop the flow of urine on a toilet. Hold for 5-10 seconds, then fully relax for 10 seconds. Do 10 repetitions once or twice daily.li>
- More is not better. It is unhealthy to do hundreds of Kegels per day!
- Stretch tight hips and strengthen glutes by doing four to five deep squats daily.
- Do 10 deep, relaxing belly breaths each night before going to bed to improve function of diaphragm.
- Cross train with yoga/pilates to work on balanced core strength.
About the author:
Corinne Wade is a registered physiotherapist who owns her own Women’s Health physiotherapy clinic in Kelowna, BC. She has special postgraduate training in treating both men and women with pelvic floor dysfunction such as incontinence and pelvic pain. She has worked as a physiotherapist in both the United States and in Canada. She is an avid runner. For more information check her website at: www.karephysio.comReference: Nygaard IE. Obstet Gynecol 1994 Sep; 84(3):342.