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Incontinence

15 August 2019

72% of women runners leak urine while running, but won’t say anything

Urinary incontinence is a condition that can be easily treated, but unfortunately, many people refuse to speak up, according to a recent survey.

Are you a female runner? Do you often leak urine while running? And if so, would you ever tell anyone?

According to a recent survey taken by 2 000 women, conducted by the company Elvie in the United Kingdom, 72% of women runners will simply live with it, while 40% of the surveyed women wouldn't even tell a family member or close friend, let alone a doctor.

While the results of the survey were only published recently, the conclusions are nothing knew – there is still a considerable social stigma attached to urinary incontinence. This means that many women refuse to seek help, even though treatment and management could make a tremendous difference to their quality of life.

Leaving urinary incontinence untreated can lead to other medical consequences, such as depression and anxiety and an increased risk of infection and bladder damage.

And if you are keen runner, chances are that you might withdraw from the activity if you constantly experience urinary leakage and fear public embarrassment.

Can running make urinary incontinence worse?

Unfortunately, unmanaged urinary incontinence can become increasingly worse as a result of running. “Any activity that increases intra-abdominal pressure (e.g. through the impact of running) can cause leakage,” says Dr Alyssa Dweck, an obstetrician-gynaecologist from New York.

"The added stress on the body that comes with running a marathon can cause urinary stress incontinence problems during the race or down the road," says Dr Melinda Abernethy from the Division of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. "People who already suffer from incontinence also are at risk for bladder-control issues while running."

But not exercising at all can also exacerbate the problem, as this may lead to weight gain, placing more pressure on an already weakened pelvic muscle.

Therefore, experts recommend that you continue to exercise, even if you have urinary incontinence.

What can you do?

Don’t hang up your running shoes just yet – there are ways to manage urinary incontinence and make running more comfortable. It is, however, important to establish the cause of your leaking, as there are many factors that can cause weakened pelvic muscles or an overactive bladder.

Knowing the underlying cause can make treatment and management much more effective. So, while medical intervention should be your first port of call, there are other ways to manage urinary incontinence for runners:

1. Incorporate pelvic strength exercises into your routine

If you’ve ever trained properly for a long distance run, you'll probably have a strength workout as part of your regime. Make pelvic floor exercises part of that regime, as experts agree that this can make a difference. Moves such as squats and glute bridges are already vital for improving your strength and condition as a runner, but squeezing your pelvic floor muscles (Kegel exercises) while you do these will also increase your pelvic floor strength. Confused? Here is our quick guide to Kegel exercises and where to start.

2. Don’t dehydrate – plan your liquid intake

Forgoing water completely in the hope to avoid leaking is a bad idea. When you become dehydrated, your urine becomes concentrated, which can irritate the bladder and trigger even more leaking. And running without adequate hydration is a recipe for disaster. The secret is to be smart about your fluid intake – keep a bladder diary before and after your runs to see what triggers your leaking.

3. Invest in moisture-wicking gear and incontinence pads

Choose underwear and running shorts that will absorb moisture. The options of discreet pads specifically designed for urinary incontinence are also more varied than in the past – don’t think that you can use a sanitary towel for this purpose – absorption levels differ.

Image credit: iStock

 

Ask the Expert

Incontinence Expert

Dr Prenevin Govender completed his MBChB at the University of Cape Town in 2001. He obtained his Fellowship of the College of Urologists in 2009 and graduated with distinction for a Masters in Medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2010. His special interests include laparoscopic, pelvic organ prolapse and urinary incontinence surgery. He consults full-time at Life Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont.

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