There’s a lot to worry about when you’re an athlete:
- How well will you perform at your next game?
- Will you shave enough time off your sprint during practice in order to place at the next track meet?
- How many shots will you make in order to gain scout interests at the next tournament?
- Will you kick the game winning goal at your next soccer game?
When you have to perform at your best, one thing you should not have to worry about is whether or not you will have urinary incontinence during these big moments. Having urinary incontinence during sports can oftentimes leave people feeling embarrassed and isolated. But you’re certainly not alone in this!
How common is urinary leakage?
People believe that only older adults and women who have given birth experience urine leakage. Contrary to popular belief, research has found that 33% of elite athletes experience urine leakage, regardless of their gender. A 2017 research study identified that volleyball players have the highest occurrence of urine leakage. However, you don’t have to be an elite level athlete to experience leakage. This is common in gymnasts, runners, indoor soccer players, cross-country skiers and basketball players.
What is the pelvic floor supposed to do and how does it relate to your urinary leakage?
Your pelvic floor is a muscular sheet (very similar to the shape of a sling) that holds your pelvic organs (bladder, uterus [females only], and rectum). Your pelvic floor muscles also surround the urethra and anus, opening and closing those outlets. When these muscles contract they close the urethra and prevent urine leakage.
What causes stress urinary leakage?
There are several theories that may explain why urinary incontinence occurs in athletes. Urinary incontinence is defined as involuntary loss of urine. The most common type of incontinence found in athletes is stress urinary incontinence (SUI). SUI occurs when there is a substantial amount of downward pressure placed upon the pelvic floor muscles. When the pelvic floor muscles are not strong enough to withstand this pressure it results in the leakage of urine. This type of pressure typically occurs when performing exercise (jumping, landing, kicking, running), high impact activities, sneezing, coughing, laughing, lifting or other activities requiring exertion.
Can Physical therapy help with urinary leakage for athletes?
Research has consistently found that physical therapy for pelvic floor muscles is the number one most effective treatment for stress urinary incontinence. Pelvic Health Physical Therapists can help you learn more about the anatomy of your pelvic floor, how to properly strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, train your pelvic floor muscles specific to your sport or activity, and can teach you strategies to withstand the pressure that occurs during high impact activities. Contact a Physical Therapist who specializes in Pelvic Health to stop leaking while you play!
Author: Dr. Crystal Okenkpu, PT, DPT, CLT
Crystal graduated from the University of Houston with a B.S degree in Kinesiology Exercise Science. She received her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Mary Baldwin University – Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences. She is currently a Women’s Health Resident focusing on pelvic health and is passionate about female athletes with pelvic floor dysfunction and women experiencing pelvic region dysfunction postpartum. Originally from Houston Texas, Crystal enjoys anything artsy, outdoorsy, running on trails, traveling, exploring new restaurants, playing sports, and going to greenhouses/plant nurseries.
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