By Amanda Fisher, for Women's Health Foundation
As a physical therapist specializing in women's health and pelvic physical therapy, I have seen a trend toward younger and younger female athletes coming into the clinic embarrassed and concerned about leaking urine while playing sports.
If you are like me, you have had this happen too many times. You may have lost control from laughing too hard, running too fast or jumping while playing a sport. No matter when it happened, you knew it wasn't supposed to be like that.
The leaking of urine—what is called incontinence—started happening to me while playing high school sports. I played volleyball and basketball year round and ran in my off time to stay in shape.
The first time I "peed my pants" I was landing from spiking a volleyball. I remember thinking, why is this happening? I quickly rubbed the wetness away, pulled my legs together so no one could see the trickle and continued to play, hoping no one saw the embarrassment on my face.
I would find myself changing my underwear and shorts after practice or a game to cover it up. I used to think I just sweated a lot "down there" during my workouts. Well, I was wrong. The older I got, the more I worked out and the more I leaked urine. When was I going to grow out of this? It seemed like it was never going to end.
I started running half marathons and noticed a lot of people had urine running down their legs during the race. I even read in a fitness magazine, "You are not a true runner until you have wet your pants." Well, it looked like I was finally a REAL runner. Ha! But the reality was it was not funny, and I was tired of this problem
Seeing other people having the same issue, I started realizing I was not alone and this leakage could not be the norm!
This is one reason I chose to become a physical therapist. My passion is to help females not have to go through the humiliation I went through. To make sure you don't have to experience the severity of incontinence that I did, I have come up with a few tips for you. I sincerely believe that if you read this and do what is recommended, you can reduce your leakage while exercising and become a more confident female and athlete.
- Do what your mama always told you: Stand up straight! Start by sitting up in class and playing sports with good posture. This will improve your functional core stability. Every time you get a text message, make the text your reminder to improve your posture. If you drive, adjust your rearview mirror when sitting with good posture, so when you look in it, you have to be sitting up straight.
- Keep moving! Check your spinal motion in all directions a couple times during the week to stay limber, which means:
- Bend forward and touch your toes.
- Lie on your stomach and press up with your arms, keeping your pelvis on the ground.
- When standing, glide your hand down the outside of your leg, until you touch your knee then switch.
- In class, sit in a chair: turn to the right as far as you can, then to the left as far as you can and see if you can turn to the left and right the same amount.
- Don't hold your breath! Exhale while performing squats, lunges and when lifting. Holding your breath can increase your abdominal pressure which can lead to weakening of your pelvic floor muscles (the part of your body where the leaking comes from).
When running, make sure you aren't taking shallow breaths. Deep breaths allow your diaphragm (breathing muscle) to work to its fullest potential.
- Move it or lose it. Running, jumping and lifting can weaken part of your core muscles called the pelvic floor. These muscles are like the bottom of a grocery bag. If you continue to jump up and down with the groceries in the bag, eventually the bag will weaken from the pressure and you may lose an apple or a bottle of water. Like the bottom of the grocery bag, your pelvic floor muscles support your "goodies." No one wants to lose their goodies, especially in public. If you continue to play sports and forget about strengthening the pelvic floor muscles OR hold your breath when landing from jumping or lifting weight, you may lose your goodies, or in my case, have an accident while playing volleyball.
Muscles get stronger by using them. You use your pelvic floor muscles to help you stop the flow of urine or hold back gas. However, using these muscles just for these activities will not improve your strength enough to keep you from leaking with sports activities. Back to the analogy of stopping the flow of urine or holding back gas, when you do this exercise in a sitting position in a chair, you want to think about pulling these muscles up and in toward your head. Make this a gentle squeeze to prevent other muscle groups from helping. After squeezing these muscles for a few seconds, make sure to relax them back down. Make sure you are breathing when you do this exercise.
Urinary incontinence can be embarrassing at any age or stage in life, but particularly for younger females and athletes. These tips can help you decrease or avoid leaking with your sports participation in the future.
Amanda Fisher, DPT, is a physical therapist with a doctorate in physical therapy from Rockhurst University. She is the owner and physical therapist at Empower Your Pelvis – Physical Therapy, Health & Wellness in Kansas City, Missouri.