Weak bladder. Incontinence. Urinary stress. Leakage.
Could there be a more awkward topic? No wonder so few people talk about it. But despite this silence, some research suggests that as many as 46% of women suffer from a weak bladder. And new research shows that this condition is discouraging many women from participating in sports.
A study recently published in the British Medical Journal asked 679 Italian women whether they had ever had urinary stress incontinence. The anomymous responses showed that around 1 in 7 (15%) said they suffered from the condition. On average, the women had been putting up with the symptoms for six years.
Of those affected, almost half said the condition occurred during routine activities, while one in three said it occurred solely during sporting activities. One in five said it occurred in both circumstances.
One in 10 women said that stress incontinence had prompted them to give up their favourite sport. A further one in five said that the condition had restricted or forced them to change their activities, in a bid to avoid the risk of leakage.
I’ll be honest with you: I’m a frequent pee-er. And I admit, I get a little nervous if I know I’m going to be without a bathroom for a significant length of time. When I’m at the movies, I always pee right when the previews start. When I’m out on the town and happen to find myself in a place where I know there’s a bathroom, I always use it – just in case I won’t find one later. As for the great outdoors, I’ve learned to squat.
Try adding Kegels to your gym routine!
The good news is that most bladder control problems are due to weak pelvic muscles. Like all muscles, these can be strengthened by repeatedly flexing them, a technique many of us know as Kegel exercises.
How do you know you’re squeezing the right muscles? I like the suggestions found on the NIH’s National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearing House (NKUDIC – how’s that for an acronym?):
Imagine that you are trying to stop passing gas. Squeeze the muscles you would use. If you sense a “pulling” feeling, you are squeezing the right muscles for pelvic exercises.
Imagine that you are sitting on a marble and want to pick up the marble with your vagina. Imagine “sucking” the marble into your vagina.
Lie down and put your finger inside your vagina. Squeeze as if you were trying to stop urine from coming out. If you feel tightness on your finger, you are squeezing the right pelvic muscles.
You can also identify your pelvic muscles by stopping the flow of urine midstream. Once you’ve practiced a few times this way, you should be able to flex your pelvic floor independently of urination.
“Kegel exercises” are typically performed in sets. Here are a few techniques:
- Quick pumps: do 15 reps of quick pumps, pause for 30 seconds and repeat. Start at 15 and work your way up to 100 reps two times a day.
- Hold and release: contract the muscle slowly and hold for 5 seconds, release slowly. Work your way to at least 25 reps two times a day.
- Elevator: slowly contract 1/3 of the way, pause, then 2/3 of the way, pause, then all the way. Do 10 reps two times a day.
Weak Bladders Deter Many Young Women From Sports Participation [Science Daily]
Kegel exercises [Wikipedia]
What I need to know about Bladder Control for Women [NKUDIC]