Female Climber Series: Female Athletes and Urinary Incontinence
Performing high level sport has been shown to be strongly associated with urinay incontinence (UI) in female athletes. UI is the involuntary loss of urine by either stress (think sneezing, laughing or impact) or urge (think suddenly and desperately needing to wee).
Our ability to control this leaking of urine is dependent on the strength and function of our pelvic floor muscles. But why is it that physical exercise has this negative impact on our pelvic floor?
1- High impact exercises and bracing during strenuous movements can increase intra-abdominal pressure, which can overload the pelvic organs and pelvic floor muscles.
2- Pregnancy and birth increases the pressure and stretches the pelvic floor muscles, weakening them.
What can we do if we experience UI, for example, when running, sneezing, lifting or jumping down from the bouldering wall?
1. Do pelvic floor exercises. We need to do these regularly (think every day) and consistently (think 3 months). Building them into your daily routine can help here, such as when we brush our teeth or boil the kettle.
2. Do pelvic floor exercises correctly. We need to do pelvic floor exercises correctly in order to get the most out of them. Using the cue to either hold in a wee or a poo (this has actually been shown to give greater activation of the pelvic floor muscles). We need to fully relax as well as contract our pelvic floor to give good functionality so after each squeeze complete a full breath in and out. There are apps/devices or women’s health physio that can help if you don’t see any improvement!
3. Breathing tactics. Be aware of your breathing during strenuous exercises and try to reduce intra-abdominal pressure by breathing with heavy lifting.