Dr Juliet McGrattan shares her expert knowledge on stress incontinence – and how we can battle it
If you leak urine when you run, jump, cough or sneeze then you have stress incontinence. It can be embarrassing, unpleasant and inconvenient, especially for runners. It’s common – in fact, as many as one in three women experience stress incontinence – but it’s not an inevitable part of ageing or having a baby. In the majority of cases, stress incontinence when you run can be treated and cured.
You can begin your treatment or reduce your risk of developing urinary incontinence right now by doing pelvic floor exercises. Weakness in the pelvic floor muscles causes stress incontinence. When your foot strikes the ground, the pressure in your abdominal and pelvic cavities increases. Your bladder sits on top of the pelvic floor muscles and if they’re weak they can’t keep the bladder neck tightly closed under pressure. It’s vital to learn how to do pelvic floor exercises properly. And there’s no better person to teach you than women’s health physiotherapist and comedian Elaine Miller at Gusset Grippers.
You need to do a set of ten fast and ten slow contractions of your pelvic floor muscles, three times a day for twelve weeks. It’s a commitment but it helps the large majority of women. If you need reminders and direction, then use an app such as Squeezy.
Always strengthen your pelvic floor before returning to running after any break, particularly after childbirth or pelvic surgery.
If you’re leaking urine, see a women’s health physiotherapist for an assessment. You should definitely do this if you’re still leaking after twelve weeks of pelvic floor exercises or you aren’t sure whether you’re squeezing the muscles correctly. In the UK, you can access an appointment through your GP or privately. They will:
- assess the function of your pelvic floor.
- spot other factors contributing to your incontinence such as weak or imbalanced core muscles or pelvic organ prolapse.
- design and supervise a specific programme which will involve pelvic floor muscle activation and other tailored exercises.
Depending on your problems and your physiotherapist’s plan they might suggest you stop running while you rehabilitate. This can feel frustrating but will be worth it in the long term.
Occasionally, for a small number of women, physiotherapy isn’t successful, particularly if there’s any prolapse of the pelvic organs. The next step is a referral to a gynaecologist to look at other treatment options including possible surgery.
Limiting your fluid intake before running isn’t a good way to reduce incontinence: make sure to drink as you normally would regardless.
- isn’t good for bladder health.
- reduces your performance.
- can lead to serious complications, especially over longer distances.
- increases the risk of constipation, which weakens your pelvic floor.
A lot of runners just put up with stress incontinence. They wear pads, black leggings and carry a change of clothes. They avoid sprinting, star jumps and downhill runs. They find ways to hide it and keep running. It shouldn’t be that way. Let’s lose the shame of stress incontinence when running, take action and get help.