If you experience urinary leaking when you cough, sneeze, laugh or perform high-intensity exercise, such as running and jumping, you may have stress urinary incontinence.
What is stress urinary incontinence?
Stress urinary incontinence is defined as the involuntary loss of urine during times of increased intra-abdominal pressure.
What causes it?
Some of the causes of stress urinary incontinence include:
- Pelvic floor muscle weakness
- Poor timing of pelvic floor muscle contraction
- Decreased levels of oestrogen post-menopause or whilst breastfeeding
- Damage to fascia after childbirth
Stress urinary incontinence and exercise
High-impact activities such as CrossFit are becoming increasingly popular amongst women. It is during these activities such as jumping, running and weight lifting that women are more likely to leak due to the increase in intra-abdominal pressure. Many women try to limit leaking by emptying their bladder before exercise, taking regular bathroom breaks during workouts, limiting fluid intake, or wearing pads.
They may even avoid higher intensity exercise altogether. However, this can be detrimental to women’s health given the importance of impact exercise for preventing low bone density later in life.
If this sounds like you, then you’re not alone. A recent survey found 84% of female CrossFit participants reported urinary incontinence. However, it is important to know that, while leaking during exercise is common, it is not normal and there are treatments available.
What is the treatment?
Women’s health physiotherapists are trained in the diagnosis and treatment of stress urinary incontinence. Some treatment options your physiotherapist may suggest include:
- The Knack. Your women’s health physiotherapist may teach you how to engage your pelvic floor muscles just prior to and during short increases in intra-abdominal pressure such as coughing, sneezing and lifting. However, you should not try to brace your pelvic floor for the length of a run or high-intensity exercise class as this is not how the pelvic floor is designed to function.
- Pelvic floor muscle training. Your women’s health physiotherapist will assess your pelvic floor strength and prescribe an individualised pelvic floor muscle training program. This involves pelvic floor squeezes or ‘Kegels’ to strengthen the pelvic floor.
- Shaper underwear. Your women’s health physiotherapist may recommend supportive underwear to wear during exercise such as the new SRC Restore Underwear for women.
- Vaginal support devices. Your women’s health physiotherapist may prescribe a vaginal support device, which you insert similar to a tampon, to support the urethra and prevent leaking during exercise.
Before trying any of the above, please see one of our Women’s Health Physiotherapists at The Body Refinery for an assessment. A professional assessment is important so that an individualised treatment program can be developed to improve your symptoms, so you can return to physical activity with confidence.