Updated 22 November 2018

Female athletes are at risk of developing this condition

High impact sports could put women at risk of developing urinary incontinence.

Participating in sport or being active is good for you as it comes with a wide variety of health benefits, such as strengthening your muscles and bones, protecting you from cardiovascular disease and controlling your weight.

While keeping fit is good for you, sometimes pushing too hard or putting your body under too much strain can cause damage and malfunction.

Incontinence is generally more prevalent in women than it is in men.

Researchers have now found that female athletes who participate in high impact sport are more likely to suffer from urinary incontinence than those who don’t.

High-impact sports

A study was conducted on female athletes who participated in various sports, including ballet, gymnastics, athletics, basketball, aerobics, handball, badminton and volleyball. Forty-six percent of these athletes experienced urine leakage every so often, whereas 9% frequently experienced urine leakage.

The sport with the highest rate of urinary incontinence was gymnastics, with 56% of athletes experiencing urine leakage, and the sport with the lowest rate was basketball, with 17% of athletes experiencing urine leakage.

The reason for gymnastics’ high rate of urinary incontinence can be due to the frequent jumping involved in the sport. According to incontinence wear manufacturer Alyne, “Studies have evaluated the reaction force generated by the impact of the foot to the ground during various sport activities. When an individual jumps, the impact is equivalent to five times her body weight… The particularly intense physical activity in the area of the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles may in fact exacerbate the symptoms of incontinence.”

Urinary incontinence is common in women who have been pregnant and given birth as well as in older women. But studies have found that incontinence affects 25 to 28% of women who have never been pregnant.

Pelvic floor strengthening 

Physical therapist Joy Shine notes that, “During physical activity, especially high-impact sports like running and jumping, there is an increase in intra-abdominal, or belly pressure… The pressure causes the bladder, bladder neck and urethra to move downward, allowing the involuntary passage of urine.”

Patients suffering from incontinence are often told to practice pelvic muscle strengthening exercises. These exercises include Kegels. Kegels are an exercise where one contracts and releases the pelvic muscles. However, Dr Ryan Davey of Toronto Physiotherapy mentions that “Pelvic floor muscles are difficult to strengthen because they can be notoriously difficult to ‘feel’. More than 30% of women are unable to contract their pelvic floor muscles correctly. This means that your regular abdominal strengthening routine or other exercise probably isn’t strengthening these muscles effectively.”

Competitive fitness magazine, Boxrox, says that women can do more than just Kegel exercises. By strengthening one’s core muscles, less pressure is added to the pelvic floor muscles when participating in sport. It is recommended that women who suffer from incontinence do exercises like planking and overhead kettlebell walks.

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.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules