Managing Incontinence as A Runner
Your Health & Wellbeing

Managing Incontinence as A Runner

by Gary Sattin on Oct 11, 2022

One of the best things about going for a run is the rush of endorphins you feel afterward. Running brightens up your day chemically, but you also feel accomplished for getting up and doing it. Maybe your New Year’s resolution was to go on more runs, so each one gets you closer to your goal. However, it’s not uncommon to experience incontinence problems while running, which can limit your ability and cause you to lose confidence and a sense of control. Though it may seem difficult, managing incontinence as a runner is entirely attainable and provides its own unique sense of accomplishment. If you’re looking to overcome this obstacle, read through our incontinence-management advice.

Facts about Running-Induced Incontinence

Incontinence while running is stress incontinence, meaning that pressure applied to the bladder leads to unpredictable leakages. It is most common in women, as it’s present in around 30 percent of female runners. One contributing factor to incontinence is pelvic muscle strength and tenseness. Incontinence occurs when the pelvic muscles are either too weak to restrict the bladder or when they are excessively tense. This can lead to eventual muscle fatigue and loss of control.

Reassess Your Running Routine & See A Professional

If you cannot seem to stay dry for the entirety of your run, it’s time to cut back on your running while also contacting a doctor. A physical therapist or physiotherapist can tailor treatment to your specific needs. They can help you regain pelvic strength by teaching you exercises and how to structure a regimen aimed at building muscle. Because going to the bathroom is also an activity your body learns to do, it learns how often to go as well. A professional can help you retrain your bladder and brain, challenging you to lengthen the time between trips to the bathroom without hazarding an accident. The behavioral nature of when your body releases urine means certain things trigger you to go, just like there are triggers for things such as craving orange juice in the morning. And it’s quite possible jogging has become a trigger for going or would become one if you kept up your current mileage. Not only would it be a trigger, but you can build negative associations connected to running each time you run and don’t come back dry. The more closely you associate running with losing control, the less likely you are to enjoy exercising. To get out of this rut, cut back on your running to the degree that you eliminate incontinence during future runs, potentially pausing altogether for now.

Wear Some Extra Support

As you retrain your bladder and get a doctor’s advice, consider wearing some absorbent incontinence undergarments. This will give you more confidence in your ability to change your routine without the risk of a setback. For women with running-induced incontinence, products meant for period leakage are not ideal. Leakage pads are a lightweight and discreet option with moderate urine capacity that provides the freedom to run comfortably. If you’re not confident in just using a pad, consider incorporating reusable waterproof underwear for women as well. These keep your pads in place and keep leaks from spreading.

Strengthen Your Pelvic Muscles

Weakened pelvic muscles are responsible for the majority of running-induced incontinence issues. Women in particular experience pelvic weakness during and after pregnancy. Going for a run means experiencing an impact on your pelvic floor with each step, which is responsible for the stress incontinence many people experience. And while you can certainly adjust your gait and the surface you run on to soften the blows, the most helpful way to manage incontinence as a runner is to perform pelvic exercises. Whether found online or from your doctor, there are many ways to strengthen your pelvic muscles. Kegel exercises are one good option to teach body awareness and increase control by first trying to stop your urination midstream. If you’re successful, you’ve located your pelvic muscles and now you can focus on tightening and releasing your pelvic floor for multiple repetitions and sets every day. Make sure you’re not flexing your abdomen; it’s best to strengthen your pelvic muscles by only flexing them during your Kegel exercises. Your doctor may recommend other varied exercises as well. When you get stronger, the impacts felt during running don’t affect your bladder as they did before, and leaks are less likely.

Relaxation and Body Awareness

Perhaps your pelvic muscles aren’t too weak—maybe they’re tense and you need to relax them. Another way to retrain your body is by relaxing and learning how to use your own biofeedback. The first step is to try a deep breathing exercise. These calm your muscles and can naturally transition into time spent turning your attention to how your body works and feels. If you ever suddenly notice that you were clenching your jaw, you see the value of this exercise. You may notice you feel significant pressure around your pelvic muscles, which is especially common in those with a previous pelvic injury. And being mindful of your pelvic muscles during actual daily activities is helpful too. When you are familiar with your body’s tendencies, you are better able to correct them.

Addressing Diet and Weight

Your bladder’s sensitivity to certain substances can exacerbate your incontinence while running too. Caffeinated or carbonated drinks are not helpful, and citrus, dairy, and spicy foods, in general, irritate your bladder, leaving you vulnerable to leaks. Limiting these foods will help you experience some relief. Also, drinking too much water is an easy way to increase your risk of incontinence. Getting on a drinking schedule will help you keep track of how much you’re taking in and make strides to decrease water intake without becoming dehydrated. Additionally, losing weight can help you avoid running-induced incontinence. This point is clearly counter-intuitive—many people run more to lose weight. So, how does one lose weight without running or participating in a similar bladder-stressing exercise? A possible answer is to keep your running time low and work up from there. This gets you out and doing something to address your weight while remaining cautious about your incontinence.

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