Did you know the incidence of bladder leakage AKA urinary incontinence in female athletes can be as high as 80%, particularly in sports that involve jumping, running, and frequent changes in body position such as netball, trampolining, gymnastics, hockey, soccer and cycling.1,2
Urinary incontinence & adolescent female gymnasts
Stress urinary incontinence (SUI), the spontaneous loss of urine with physical exertion, is associated with general joint hypermobility. Such hypermobility is often celebrated in sports such as gymnastics and ballet because the greater flexibility enables the athlete to contort their body into a wider range and more awe inspiring positions.1 Unfortunately enhanced joint mobility has its downside. It increases the amount of force the muscles and ligaments of the body are required to withstand. This can lead to premature fatigue of the pelvic floor muscles during exercise.1,3
A study conducted across seven gymnastic clubs in South Africa in 2017 showed that 35.8% of adolescent female gymnasts suffered from SUI and 38.8% of the adolescent female gymnasts had a confirmed diagnosis of general joint hypermobility.3 The author also identified a history of regular ligament sprains, older age of adolescence, trampolining and daily training of up to 2 to 3 hours as risk factors for adolescent SUI.3
Urinary incontinence in club level netballers
In a group of 88 South Australian female netballers who had given birth and had returned to club level competition, 45.5% reported urine loss during competition and 68.2% during normal daily activities.1 55% had resorted to wearing a continence pad during competion. Alarmingly, only 10% of these women had told a health professional about their urine leakage and only 32.5% were doing pelvic floor muscle exercises to counteract the problem.
Urine leakage during sport is not just a problem affecting women who have given birth. The same study by Gill et al showed that in a group of 81 South Australian netballers who had had no children, 14.8% experienced urine loss during competition and 54.3% when not competing. 1-in-4 had resorted to wearing continence pads during competition. Zero of these women had spoken to a health professional and only 1-in-4 were doing regular pelvic floor muscle strength training to address the problem.
Pelvic floor muscle training is the answer
The best way to prevent and treat urinary leakage is through training the pelvic floor muscles.2 This involves learning how to contract the pelvic floor muscles before performing a strenuous movement e.g. before jumping to catch a ball or before sprinting after an opponent. The athlete must also train her pelvic floor muscles to be active for longer periods of time rather than just in short bursts as studies have shown the frequency of urine leakage is greatest towards the end of training and the end of competition when the entire body reaches a state of muscle fatigue.2
If you suffer from urinary incontinence during sport please call Bellbird Sports & Spinal on 03 9878 8088 to make an appointment to see our Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist Eleanor Donoghue.
If your mum, your sister, your team mate or your best friend is experiencing similar symptoms, encourage them to give us a call too!
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Gill, N., Jeffrey, S., Lin, K-Y., & Frawley, H. (2017). The prevalence of urinary incontinence in adult netball players in South Australia. Australian & New Zealand Continence Journal, 23(4), 104-105. Retrieved from https://www.ics.org/Abstracts/Publish/349/000391.pdf
Goldstick, O., & Constantini, N. (2014). Urinary incontinence in physically active women and female athletes. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 48, 296-298. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2012-091880
Wilsdorf Samuel, A. (2018). Urinary Incontinence in Adolescent Gymnasts (Unpublished master’s thesis). Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa. Retrieved from http://scholar.sun.ac.za/handle/10019.1/103624