Managing Urinary Incontinence During High-Impact Physical Activity
By Carolyn Pridham
Pelvic Health Physiotherapist
Urinary incontinence is a common and often manageable condition that affects a significant proportion of adult women. It is estimated that up to 50% of women may experience urinary incontinence at some point in their lives. However, it is important to recognize that the actual rates of incontinence may be even higher, due to women’s hesitancy to openly discuss this issue. The likelihood of experiencing urinary incontinence tends to increase with age. One common situation in which leakage can happen is during exercise, particularly activities involving high impact. A CrossFit video that was released in 2013 quickly gained popularity within the pelvic health community for its role in normalizing the occurrence of urinary incontinence during workout sessions. Opinions were divided on this video because even though urinary incontinence is a prevalent condition, it is important to understand it is not considered normal. While women should not feel ashamed about experiencing incontinence, it is recommended for them to seek assistance from a qualified professional, such as a pelvic floor physiotherapist, especially if it is causing them distress.
Since the pelvic floor and diaphragm work together to function properly it is important to take a full body approach when looking at individuals and the reason why they leak.
Having a strong and supportive pelvic floor is important; however it is also important that we look at the ability to relax our pelvic floor outside of strenuous activity. We also cannot forget about the importance of the diaphragm and thorax during activity. For example, proper bracing during heavy lifting requires the contraction of the pelvic floor as well as cueing the athlete to brace out against a lifting belt instead of bearing down through their pelvic floor. Another helpful cue in some cases is to exhale during effort if they are able, to help decrease the generation of intra-abdominal pressure during a lift.
For other high impact sports such as running, ribcage and thoracic mobility are also very important. If a patient’s pelvic floor is functioning well but they are still leaking, it is important to look at the upper half of their body. Some helpful cues for a patient when running is for them to relax their shoulders when they run, avoid talking to a running partner and thinking about breathing lower through the bottom tips of their rib cage instead of through their upper chest. This can help the diaphragm and pelvic floor work synergistically to prevent leakage.
Urinary incontinence can unfortunately lead to decreased self-confidence and can be a large barrier for women trying to stay active throughout their lifetime. Physical activity is especially beneficial as we age and transition through menopause, as our risk of heart disease and osteoporosis increase. While a patient is working with a physiotherapist or another health care provider there are products on the market to help protect patients against unwanted dampness so they can continue to stay active.
Canadian company, VIAA, designs active wear with pelvic floor dysfunction in mind. Our flagship item “The Resilient Legging” was created with the following features to help support women in their fitness journey:
- An ultra-high waistband with additional compression for core support
- Carefully placed, minimal seaming to avoid direct pressure along the site commonly used for horizontal incision during cesarian delivery and no front seam to avoid irritation of the clitoris and clitoral hood
- Discrete 4-Layer leakproof gusset that can hold up to 15 mL of fluid (urine, discharge or menstrual fluid) with the following layers:
- Hypoallergenic cotton layer: that sits gently against the vulva to replace wearing a panty liner that can irritate the skin
- Anti-microbial cotton layer with silver fibers
- Waterproof PUL cotton with TPU film lamination finish that is PFAS free
- Outer layer (78% nylon, 22% spandex) to blend seamlessly into the rest of the legging
Doing isolated pelvic floor contractions is not a bad thing, but it shouldn’t stop there. Athletes need to progress so they can functionally meet the demands of their activity or sport. In the meantime, looking at activity modifications and functional, supportive activewear can be beneficial to help make you feel confident while staying active and healthy.
To learn more about VIAA, visit our web site.
Use discount code PHS10 for 10% off your first order.
Carolyn Pridham is a pelvic health physiotherapist in Newfoundland, Canada. She owns Vitality Wellness, a multidisciplinary pelvic health clinic and recently launched her athletic wear line VIAA designed with pelvic health concerns in mind.