Urinary Incontinence in Women: How to Stay Active

2022/05/09 Home Education and advice

Urinary Incontinence in Women: How to Stay Active
Nick Arcaro Nick Arcaro Athletic Therapist

In today’s world, regular physical activity is essential for one’s good physical and mental well-being. Physical activity, whether it is jogging, yoga or gardening, helps improve your overall health and fitness, maintain a healthy weight, reduce your risk for many chronic diseases and promote good mental health.  It is recommended by Health Canada that adults, including seniors, should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week to achieve a good level of overall physical and mental health. While this recommendation is the same for women and men, it is surprising to know that only 46% of women met these guidelines.  While for many women that enjoy exercising say they do so because it improves their physical fitness, helps them manage their weight, gives them some personal time and is fun, others may have limitations that may be a barrier to exercise.  One of these limitations can be incontinence. Despite the inconveniences it may cause, there are options for women to help overcome this situation such as consulting a physiotherapist.

Why does incontinence occur more with women who exercise?

Problems with incontinence may be an important and very personal reason that prevents some women from starting an exercise program or from continuing to participate in their preferred physical activities.  About 30% of exercising women experience urinary leakage during at least one type of exercise. High-impact physical activity, where both feet are off the ground at the same time such as jumping and running, involves abrupt, repeated increases in intra-abdominal pressure.  This increased pressure can lead to incontinence when there is weakness in the muscles that are found in the pelvic floor that support the bladder.

How can a woman strengthen a weak bladder?

There are many general lifestyle habits that can be adopted and practiced regularly to help deal with incontinence.  Whether you are a woman who exercises on a regular basis or not, these recommendations all have the common goal of reducing the amount of pressure created in the pelvic floor, which is the group of muscles found at the base of your pelvis (the bottom of your torso).  While many of these lifestyle habits may take discipline and consistency to produce important changes, they can also have a positive effect on your general health.  Below you will find some suggestions that provide several ways to help manage a weak bladder:

  • Do daily pelvic floor exercises
  • Stop smoking
  • Avoid lifting heavy objects
  • Eat a bladder-healthy diet
  • Lose excess weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Try to prevent constipation
  • Avoid excess caffeine intake

What exercises help treat incontinence in women?

As mentioned above, performing daily pelvic floor exercises is one of the keys to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor and therefore reduce the incidence of incontinence.  Kegel exercises strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine, and rectum. Kegel exercises, also known as pelvic floor muscle training, can be done any time.  Here’s a step-by-step guide to doing Kegel exercises correctly:

  • Find the right muscles: In the lying position with the knees bent, draw the belly button towards the spine without inflating the abdomen. Pretend that you need to urinate and need to hold it in.  Use your fingers just inside to the front of the pelvic bones to feel these muscles gently contract.
  • Improve your technique: Once the muscles contraction is improved, try to hold the contraction for longer periods of time and while breathing normally.
  • Keep your focus: Kegel exercises should not be strenuous. For best results, focus simply on tightening your pelvic floor muscles only. Be careful not to flex the muscles in your abdomen, thighs, or buttocks. Avoid holding your breath. Instead, breathe freely during the exercises.
  • Practice often: Repeat three times a day. Aim for at least three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions a day.

How does physiotherapy help women with incontinence?

incontinence physio

A physiotherapist that is an expert in pelvic floor rehabilitation, also known as perineal rehabilitation, can help to identify and treat incontinence caused by physical activity.  By strengthening the muscles that support the bladder and the urethra, pelvic floor physiotherapy can treat problems with leakage due a rise in pressure in the abdomen from exercising.  The physiotherapist will work directly with a patient to help them strengthen the pelvic floor by teaching the appropriate exercises and by ensuring that these exercises are performed correctly.  Strengthening any group of muscles can take some time. However, when done properly and under the supervision of a physiotherapist, improvements can be observed and positive changes in activities of daily living such as exercise are more enjoyable.

Here are some treatment approaches used in pelvic floor rehabilitation:

  • Pelvic muscle retraining (to improve pelvic muscle tone and prevent leakage)
  • Kegel exercises: Regular, daily exercising of pelvic muscles can improve, and even prevent, urinary incontinence.
  • Biofeedback: Used with Kegel exercises, biofeedback helps people gain awareness and control of their pelvic muscles.
  • Vaginal weight training: small weights are held within the vagina by tightening the vaginal muscles.
  • Pelvic floor electrical stimulation: Mild electrical pulses stimulate muscle contractions.

How can women manage urinary incontinence during exercise?

One of the objectives to controlling urinary incontinence is to lose excess weight.  Therefore, in addition to dietary changes, performing regular exercise is an integral part of the treatment plan.  For some women, it may be difficult to manage bladder leaks during exercise but here are a few suggestions that may help:

  • Strengthen your pelvic floor muscles
  • Use a pessary for support
  • Use incontinence padding for protection
  • Do not drink an excessive amount of fluids before exercising
  • Avoid foods that are diuretics before exercising
  • Empty Your Bladder Before Starting Your Workout
  • Wear Black Pants

incontinence physio

Women staying active despite issues with incontinence

Incontinence is a common problem with women who exercise.  When this issue occurs, the most common reflex women have is to stop exercising.  They will wait to see if the problem goes away. This approach is not favorable for women in the long term since exercising regularly is proven to provide important physical and mental health benefits and exercising is a fun activity to do.  Consulting a physiotherapist that is trained in pelvic floor rehabilitation can be beneficial to learn how to strengthen the specific muscles that support the bladder.  The therapist can also guide women while learning other techniques that can be used to manage problems with incontinence.  Strengthening is the key to ensuring that a healthy lifestyle can be maintained for all active women.

If you would like to a speak therapist before booking an appointment, click on the button below to book a FREE orientation call.

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