Question: Should you avoid running and jumping if you sometimes leak urine (say, when you cough or sneeze)?
Answer: Running is great for fitness. It also builds strong bones and leg muscles, helps keep your weight in check and it’s a powerful stress buster.
But running, and other high-impact activities like jumping, put a lot of pressure on your pelvic floor, the sling of muscles at the base of the pelvis which support the bladder, bowel, vagina and uterus.
A weak pelvic floor can cause leakage of urine and this is very common in women, especially those who’ve had a baby, whether they run or not.
Hormonal changes around menopause can make this worse.
One in three women who have ever had a baby will have had bladder leakage of some kind in the past month, according to Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health.
Pelvic floor physiotherapist Mary O’Dwyer is loathe to scare anyone off any physical activity, but says if you leak — even a little bit when you cough or sneeze — it’s a sign your pelvic floor is not doing its job.
This means running and jumping are not the ideal choice of exercise — at least in the short term, until you can work on a program to improve your pelvic floor function.
“Leaking urine is a red flag and should alert you to finding the cause,” she says.
“When your pelvic muscles are weak, it’s a similar situation to when you’ve had a sporting injury. You need a period of rehab where you might need to do modified activities for a while until you get your optimal strength back.”
Lower the impact
“The first step is to be assessed by a pelvic floor physiotherapist, who can help you work out where to go from there. It will be different for every woman.”
However, she stresses that with the right help, most women will be able to improve their pelvic floor support so that a trial of running becomes an option.
For some women who have had severe trauma to their pelvic floor, for example during a difficult childbirth, lower-impact exercise may remain the preferred option though.
The good news is there are other forms of exercise that put less pressure on the pelvic muscles that you can do while you’re improving your pelvic floor.
These include walking, swimming and seated cycling on a stationary bike.
The trouble with running when you have a weak pelvic floor is that over time, the impact can lead the weakened pelvic floor muscles to become progressively more stretched and weakened, Ms O’Dwyer said.
This means they do not offer the correct level of support to the bladder, uterus and bowel that sit above the pelvic floor.
This puts extra strain on ligaments that hold these organs in place in the body.
Ultimately, if these ligaments become too strained, it can lead to a condition called prolapse — where part of the bladder, uterus or bowel protrude into the vagina.
This can be damaging to women’s self esteem and sex life and can also affect how these organs function.