Urinary incontinence is a common problem for many women but many people do not realise that Physiotherapists such as our own Danielle Mah (Barrow Street clinic) can treat this issue often without having to see any specialists. In this blog post Danielle discusses the question of whether over-exercising can cause Urinary Incontinence.
Urinary Incontinence & Exercise
I suppose it’s a question of ‘chicken or the egg’, especially in women who have had children. Did the weakness in their pelvic floor muscles from the trauma of childbirth cause the incontinence because they are too weak to oppose high impact exercise? Or did the impact during high intensity exercise weaken the pelvic floor over time?
Activities such a road running and sports that involve jumping or landing (i.e. volleyball or gymnastics) increases the pressure on the pelvic floor muscles and may increase chances of incontinence especially if there are confounding factors such as weak core muscles and a history of back pain. Heavy lifting may also exacerbate problems if weight training is done improperly with breath holding increasing the abdominal pressure and therefore the pressure on the pelvic floor muscles.
The pelvic floor muscles work in opposition to impact, to support the pelvic and abdominal contents, including the bladder. They work to close the opening of the bladder and are our voluntary control for delaying the expulsion of urine. As you can imagine, if the pelvic floor muscles are too weak to oppose the impact forces, from activities like exercising, then a leak may result from the inability to withstand these forces.
If you imagine, it’s like squeezing a water balloon where the opening isn't tied strong enough to keep the balloon from leaking. If the pressure on the balloon is high then you need to reinforce the opening. This is the idea of strengthening the pelvic floor.
You don’t have to have had children to experience problems. I've treated patients with pelvic floor weakness in their teens and early 20’s who are high performing in their sport. Despite being extremely fit, they have simply missed training these specific muscles and have had reversible consequences such as leaking and ‘sensation of pressure’ symptoms of prolapse (pelvic floor laxity).
How Can I Prevent or Solve a Pelvic Floor Problem?
To prevent the onset of urinary incontinence, you need to do simple, and specific exercises targeting the pelvic floor. This may take some concentration initially, especially if these muscles are weak, and it is important that you are doing them properly so being taught by a chartered physiotherapist who specializes in Women’s Health may be appropriate when starting. Exercises that work the core muscles are important as well, as the pelvic floor muscles work with the abdominals and the diaphragm to support the area. Types of exercises, like those included in pilates (core strengthening are excellent and may help to maintain strength once the initial weakness in the pelvic floor isovercome.
Specifically to high level performance, some individuals may need to train the pelvic floor muscles and consciously initiate contractions while undergoing their sport of choice (i.e.. exercising/contracting the pelvic floor while running).
If you are not experiencing any problems, then a program of pilates will help prevent the onset in conjunction with specific pelvic floor training.
What We Can Do to Help With Urinary Incontinence
If you are having trouble, then seeing a chartered physiotherapist is the best option to be assessed for a specific pelvic floor exercise program tailored individually to your needs. We provide Women’s Health services in the following clinics- Barrow Street, Temple Bar, Douglas, Kilkenny, Raheny, Swords & Patrick’s Quay. So if you would like to book an appointment for any of our Women’s Health Services get in tough with us and we can get your treatment under-way today!