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Let’s Not be Shy About Exercise-Induced Urinary Incontinence

runnerOk, lets get real. Urinary incontinence is very common in female runners (and those doing other forms of exercise). Researchers have found that as many as 30 percent of female runners have experienced incontinence while running. I happen to believe the number is a lot higher, it’s just not something most of us like to talk about. In fact, for women in general (not just those who exercise), it has been said that 1/3 have issues of incontinence as they age, and some sources say as much as 60% of women deal with the issue of incontinence. With statistics like this, why aren’t we talking about it? We should be.

Urinary incontinence is defined as an uncontrollable and unintentional loss or leakage of urine. The incontinence that occurs when running (or high impact exercise) is referred to as ‘stress incontinence’, meaning that when stress is applied to the bladder, it leaks. In this case, the stress is the physical exertion of running or exercise. While women who have given birth are more likely to say they experience stress incontinence, women who have never given birth also deal with this issue.

What can we do?
Well, there is a range of severity which prompts different treatment options. I suggest you speak to your doctor the next time you have an appointment and discuss what those options are. However, before you even do that, start to do Kegels (see 9 Kid Fitness post How to do a Kegel) regularly. I find that the easiest time for me to do them is either right before I get out of bed in the morning or before I fall asleep at night. Although you can do these exercises almost anywhere, I like to do Kegel exercises lying down because I find that I can concentrate better and think about the muscles I am working. I have never been very consistent…but have lately gotten a lot better about doing them. I have decided it just doesn’t make sense not to.

I also highly recommend biofeedback, which is done at a physical therapist’s office. If we are rehabing muscles after an injury, we go see a physical therapist to help us regain strength in that area. It is the same with the pelvic floor. And it is certainly better to do it when the problems are small rather than waiting until they are big!

What is Biofeedback therapy?
Biofeedback therapy for incontinence involves re-educating muscles and nerves using special sensors to help us change bodily functions that we are usually not aware of. Working with a trained therapist can help to modify or change abnormal responses to more normal and effective patterns. It is important to find and work with a therapist knowledgeable in disorders associated with the pelvic floor and rectum. One of the goals of biofeedback therapy is improve ability to contract pelvic floor muscles in response to sensation. Many insurance companies cover treatment for this type of therapy.

Physical therapist Barbara Green explains that incontinence is not a normal part of aging, and we don’t have to assume that it is something we will just have to live with. She says education and knowledge about the pelvic floor is essential for women in order for them to become their own advocates. In other words, the more we know, the more we can do to help ourselves.

What about when these or other treatments for urinary incontinence aren’t enough? For some women, the symptoms of stress incontinence or overactive bladder don’t respond to conservative treatment. When urinary incontinence markedly disrupts your life, urinary incontinence surgery may be an option.

Have you ever thought about going to see a physical therapist for pelvic floor therapy?

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