8 tips on running with urinary incontinence

Urinary incontinence shouldn't stop you from running.
Urinary incontinence shouldn't stop you from running.

It has been shown that urinary incontinence often affects female athletes. A previous Health24 article reported that women who participate in high-impact sports are more prone to developing urinary incontinence than those who don’t.

The activities in the study included ballet, volleyball and gymnastics. But many women also participate in long distance running. According to a previous study, your bladder health could be in jeopardy when you regularly partake in endurance events such as marathons.

"The added stress on the body that comes with running a marathon can cause urinary stress incontinence problems during the race or down the road," said Dr Melinda Abernethy from the Division of Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. "People who already suffer from incontinence also are at risk for bladder-control issues while running."

But if you have a passion for running and you are experiencing urinary stress incontinence, there is no reason why you should give up something you love.

We explored some tips that could help:

1. Empty your bladder beforehand

This is something any runner partaking in a long distance event will tell you, but it is even more important when you experience urinary incontinence. A full bladder will leak more than an empty one, you will be uncomfortable during your run and it will be an unpleasant experience. Knowing that you’ve gone to the loo before a race or long run will help you worry less about finding your next toilet stop en route.

woman on toilet

2. Plan toilet stops before hitting the road

If you are heading out as a group, factor in whether there could be service stations along the way. Be sure to have change on you as some service station may require coins to use the bathroom facilities. While many big races have portaloos along the road, you can plan ahead and check with the particular race organisers where the portaloos will be situated. Many large marathons are well planned and will distribute a map and information about different amenities beforehand.

restroom keys

3. Don’t withhold fluid

When you are running long distances, dehydration will certainly not help, as it can cause severe fatigue and irritate your bladder. While you will need to learn beforehand how much liquid your bladder can tolerate before you experience leaks, you don’t want to avoid fluids altogether.

water bottle and runner

4. Consult a physiotherapist

It is said that all seasoned marathon runners have a physiotherapist on speed-dial. While physiotherapy can be a vital part in treating injuries or helping you with strength exercises, they may also be able to help you build pelvic strength.

Woman with her physiotherapist

5. Assess your shoes

Yes, the pounding on your feet will also impact your bladder. The more worn the soles of your current running shoes are, the more impact your body will absorb, which can aggravate your urinary incontinence. Visit a specialist in running shoes to get you fitted properly and to ensure that your feet are properly cushioned to withstand the terrain and help protect the rest of your body.

Running on gravel road

6. Choose your clothing carefully

Choose highly-absorbent running shorts that supports your core as well. If you prefer to make use of absorbent pads, but are embarrassed that these might show through tight leggings or shorts, invest in a running skort (a combination of shorts and a skirt). Many running clubs offer skorts as part of their club colours and sport shops also stock them.

running clothes

7. Be prepared

When packing your running belt for a long run, don’t just include energy gels. Pack tissues or wet wipes stored in a Ziploc bag in case you need to use them during the run, or if you have to use a crowded portaloo (where toilet paper is often a scarce commodity).

running bib and belt

8. Learn to listen to your body

Figure out when the leaking is at its worse – is it while running on a certain terrain, in a certain temperature, after a certain distance or drinking a certain energy drink? Does it get worse when you are menstruating or when you experience stress and tension in your daily life and had a lack of sleep? All these factors can contribute to urinary stress incontinence – and knowing your body will help you control your incontinence. Most importantly, if urinary incontinence occurs suddenly or if it interferes with your running to such an extent where you no longer want to participate in races or runs with friends, you need to see your doctor to discuss treatment options.

Two happy women running

Image credit: iStock

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