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10 tips for preventing incontinence when running

10 tips for preventing incontinence when running

Running is a relatively cheap way to get active and for many, it provides more than physical activity – delivering an escape from the daily stresses and some much-needed headspace to cope with the demands of our busy lives.

How running affects the pelvic floor

Running has many benefits but how does it affect your pelvic floor health? Studies into the effect of marathon running on the pelvic floor are relatively few, but studies suggest that just over 30% of non-professional female marathon runners experience stress urinary incontinence (SUI) or as much as 50% of active women. So at least one in every three female runners will experience pelvic floor issues at some point. Eeek!

When women experience incontinence they often reduce their activity levels; around half resort to using pads and many are simply unaware of the available treatments.

But isn’t it just women who’ve had babies that get stress incontinence? No. Women who haven’t had children and even elite athletes may also experience bladder control issues. The amount and type of training you do has a direct effect on potential pelvic floor dysfunction, with high impact activity having an almost five-fold impact on incontinence symptoms. It’s not reserved for older women either, as SUI in early life is a strong predictor of incontinence in later life.

Running is a high-impact sport – the degree of impact depends on a number of factors, including your gait, foot pattern on impact, the speed of running, terrain and duration. The pelvic floor feels the force of that impact on every step; and for those with existing pelvic floor issues, it’s important to know that running is likely to make things worse. If, however, stopping running is a non-negotiable for you, here are my tips to help reduce the impact on your pelvic floor.

10 tips to help manage the impact of running on your pelvic floor:

1. Seek the support and advice of a female health physiotherapist

I do not advocate or endorse running while experiencing pelvic floor issues. If you have pelvic floor dysfunction it’s important to understand the type and scale of the issue affecting you and treat it specifically with the help of a qualified health professional. A women’s health physiotherapist can support your understanding using biofeedback and advise on the suitability of at-home support trainers, such as Elvie Trainer, to strengthen your pelvic floor.

2. Include other forms of training in your plan to support your desire to run

Programmes, including those offered by Holistic Core Restore® coaches such as myself, coach you to manage the pressure within your abdomen for everyday occurrences such as coughs, laughs and sneezes while building your core strength and fitness for movement.

3. Invest in supportive footwear

If your trainers have been around for more than a year, it’s worth investing in care for your feet and pelvic floor. Talking to a specialist at a running shoe store can ensure a good fit with the right support.

4. Choose appropriate clothing

Clothing designed to support your core, like EVB Sports shorts, will help keep you feeling comfortable and confident during your run.

5. Vary the terrain you run on

Opt for surfaces with a little more give (such as grass) wherever possible.

6. Build your distances gradually

Those running longer distances may notice that it’s towards the end of their run that leaks start to occur – work to where your energy levels (and pelvic floor) are on any particular day and stop if it doesn’t feel right for you.

7. Listen to your body

A medal for completing a run is pretty shallow if your confidence has been robbed by the incontinence it has caused. Be aware of when symptoms occur and back off from there to manage your training without symptoms.

8. Support your pelvic floor through your nutrition and lifestyle

Alignment, constipation, hydration and body weight all have an effect on pelvic floor health.

9. Get sufficient good quality sleep

If you’re not sleeping well then your pelvic floor isn’t getting chance to recover either. Check in with your energy levels (and pelvic floor) at the start of every activity session.

10. Increase your body awareness

Are you holding your breath for different daily tasks? We can’t treat the pelvic floor in isolation, it needs to be a cohesive part of the whole body, working in tandem with the diaphragm, abdominal wall, and alignment.

Special considerations for pregnant and postnatal athletes

Pregnancy and childbirth are times of exceptional change and pressure on our pelvic floor. The postnatal period extends far beyond the first six weeks post-birth. Your body takes at least a year to fully recover from pregnancy and childbirth.  

All of the above applies during these periods but additionally, consideration and care need to be given to the changing status of your body and pelvic floor. So, while some may be able to safely return to running without long-term effects within six months of childbirth, other women may require much longer. Go steady!

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This blog post was written by Lisa Gimenez-Codd. Lisa is a female health & Holistic Core Restore® Coach specializing in supporting women through mindset, movement, and nutrition from motherhood to menopause. Visit her website or email her for more information.

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