We spoke to physiotherapist Hannah Montague to get the details on our pelvic floors
Let’s get one thing straight: accidentally leaking wee when you run is totally normal. One study found that over 50% of female athletes under the age of 40 experienced urinary leakage when they did sport, with women who run three or more times a week even more likely to leak.
Urine leakage occurs when pressure from the abdomen increases and the necessary counter pressure at the urethra is insufficient to avoid the loss of urine. Having strong pelvic floor muscles can help tackle the pressure, but runners are notorious for neglecting these muscles. Pregnancy, childbirth and menopause can significantly weaken the muscles, too, making it more difficult to prevent leaks.
Statistically, a huge amount of runners experience stress incontinence but, aside from the odd giggle over a glass of wine with your mates, we don’t seem to be talking about it. Only 16% of women seek treatment, feeding into the belief that leaking is something to be tolerated when, in fact, it can be treated.
The inescapable truth is that women’s health in the UK is under-researched, leaving most women to grin and bear it when there are viable solutions to many of these problems. For two thirds of women pelvic floor training can be hugely beneficial, but 1 in 3 of us will need to try other methods as well, and these are the methods that tend to be overlooked. Temporary intravaginal devices, for example, aren’t really talked about in British culture, despite the fact that they can significantly reduce, if not entirely stop, any leakage whilst in place.
The big benefit of these devices is that they’re entirely self-managed. They’re not surgically implanted and they don’t need to be emptied after use – you can just pop one in like a tampon and remove it in the same way. According to a control trial the Uresta device, for instance, showed a significant reduction in leaks when used, with many participants choosing to continue using it after the study had finished.
“Since having the pessary I’ve had the freedom to get back into keeping fit and doing physical activities without the worry of any embarrassing accidents,” said one subject.
If you are experiencing stress urinary incontinence, the NHS Squeezy App is a brilliant resource to get the ball rolling with pelvic floor exercises. If you are struggling to locate and/or contract your pelvic floor, a women’s health physiotherapist will be able to help you. If you have been unable to resolve urinary leakage during exercise, a device such as Uresta could give you the freedom to self-manage without committing to a permanent treatment option.
Let’s break the stigma and confront women’s issues head on. After all, we deserve to run worry-free.