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  • Janette O'toole

Leaking in runners

Leaking urine is very common in runners. Researchers have found that as many as 30% of female runners have experienced incontinence whilst running. In fact, elite athletes and people who play high impact sports are at increased risk of developing pelvic floor problems. This is because of the constant and excessive downward pressure that these sports place on the pelvic floor.




Common signs of a pelvic floor problem are:

· leaking urine when you exercise, laugh, cough or sneeze

- needing to rush to the toilet, constantly needing to go to the toilet

- finding it difficult to empty your bladder or bowel

- accidentally passing wind

- a sensation of heaviness, discomfort, dragging or a feeling of bulging in the vagina in women. In men, this may be felt as a bulge in the rectum or a feeling of needing to use their bowels but not actually needing to go

- painful sex


Signs of pelvic floor problems may not be obvious. Hip, back and pelvic pain can all be associated with pelvic floor problems.


Some people are more at risk of developing pelvic floor problems. These include:

- women who are pregnant or have recently had a baby

- women who have ever had a baby

- women who are going through, or have been through, menopause

- women who have had gynaecological surgery (e.g. hysterectomy)

- men who have had prostate surgery


Other risk factors include:

- constipation (i.e. regularly straining to empty your bowels)

- chronic coughing or sneezing (e.g. due to asthma, smoking or hayfever)

- being overweight

- heavy lifting on a regular basis, e.g. at work or the gym

- previous trauma to the pelvic region


What can you do to help??

· Pelvic floor exercises

· Modify your training. For example alternating between high and low impact exercise (e.g. running and swimming) or pacing/ interval running (e.g. 1km run followed by 1km walk).

· Running on softer surfaces (e.g. grass, gravel, sand)

· Slow down and shorten your stride length. High speed running will be more likely to cause greater downward pressure on the pelvic floor. Long stride length increases the impact of running.

· Intravaginal devices (such as a vaginal pessary or ring) can be helpful for some women with bladder or prolapse symptoms. These can be inserted and removed prior to and following exercise, but should only be used with advice from a health care professional.


If you have any specific concerns, you should see a pelvic floor physiotherapist. This is a physiotherapist who has undertaken specialised training in this area, is able to assess your pelvic floor and give you specific guidance with what exercises are safe for you.

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