It is no secret that as we age, our bodies naturally change. Our muscles weaken, bones lose density, even our memories, and cognitive abilities can start to deteriorate with age. To help combat these signs of aging, many women turn to exercise and healthy living. Some would consider themselves athletes or at least athletic when it comes to their workout of choice. Even if you don’t necessarily consider yourself an athlete, to quote Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman – “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” Unfortunately, one side effect that may develop after long-term exercise and impact is light bladder leaks.
What Are Light Bladder Leaks?
There are different kinds of bladder leaks that people can experience. One kind is when the very sudden and desperate urge to go comes over an individual and they are unable to make it to the bathroom on time. This is called Urge Incontinence and it is usually connected with UTIs or other infections. We’re discussing a problem called Stress Urinary Incontinence or SUI. SUI occurs when the bladder, urinary tract, or abdomen is put under pressure (that’s the “stress”) causing the individual to involuntarily leak. The leak itself can range from a couple of drops to a full stream of urine.
But why does this happen? And what does long-term exercise have to do with it? Stress incontinence happens technically for two reasons (though both are closely related):
Urethral hypermobility- your urethra shifts position due to an increase in abdominal pressure.
Intrinsic sphincteric deficiency (ISD) – the sphincter doesn’t seal off effectively at your bladder.
Experts believe that most women with SUI have at least a little bit of ISD, even if urethral hypermobility could be at fault, as well. Basically, your pelvic floor and surrounding muscles, nerves, and tissue are weakened or damaged. This can be caused by a number of things including high-impact activities over time – like training and practicing sports or athletic activities, for instance.
Who is at Risk for Developing SUI?
There are several sets of individuals that are at higher risk of developing light bladder leaks than others. Women are more likely to experience SUI than men, as well as smokers versus non-smokers, and overweight or obese individuals compared to normal-weight individuals. In addition, athletes or those who have practiced high-impact activities for a period of time are more likely to weaken their pelvic floor with repeated impact than less active individuals.
Runners – Running puts repeated stress on the bladder, urinary tract, and pelvic floor. There have been numerous reports of women runners of all ages experiencing leaks while running, or even after.
Dancers – Women who have been in dance or gymnastics have also reported experiencing leaks. Jumping, leaping, and stretching into different positions and forms can cause some serious damage to pelvic health over time. In one study done to research SUI in elite athletes and dancers, 56% of gymnasts experienced leaks and 43% of ballerinas did.
Weight-lifting – The repeated stress and strain that weightlifters put on their bodies is needed to gain muscle, but can ultimately impact pelvic health. Make sure that all exercises are done with proper breathing techniques as holding your breath actually increases pressure on the pelvic floor.
Volleyball Players – Jumping, weightlifting, and repeated abdominal contractions are all a large part of the game of volleyball as well as large contributors to bladder leaks.
Of course, SUI can develop for a number of reasons ranging from hormonal to surgical. But the chances of experiencing leaks are increased if you have been (or still are) an athlete of any kind.
So what are female athletes to do? Stop training and exercising in the name of preserving pelvic health? Of course not! There are several options for women experiencing leaks.
Pads & Liners – Made of cotton and absorbent materials to quickly soak up and hide leaks on the go. Pads and liners are convenient but are non biodegradable can be bulky and uncomfortable to exercise in and can only be worn safely for around 8 hours.
Kegels – This is an exercise meant to restrengthen the pelvic floor muscles. Simply follow these steps to achieve the best results. Keep in mind, just like any other exercise, Kegels may take a while to have noticeable results.
Medications & Creams – This is mostly an option for women experiencing leaks as a result of a hormonal change, but may be an option for older women in conjunction with other treatments. Always talk to your doctor about your options!
Revive™ – Another option designed specifically for women is a bladder support device called Revive™ from the women’s health company Rinovum. Meant to comfortably support the bladder for up to 12 hours a day of leak protection, no matter how much you move. It’s FDA-cleared for over-the-counter use and comes in one size, making it easy and safe to use at home. Available at retailers nationwide, Revive is revolutionary for women athletes experiencing leaks!