Female Runners and Urinary Incontinence

allison-molnar_1 runner-2

Female Runners and Urinary Incontinence
Allison Molnar, DPT

July 7th-9th was the 2017 Missoula Marathon weekend. This race represents the culmination of months of training for many runners. As our bodies adjust to new and greater demands of training, injuries are a commonplace occurrence. Most athletes are familiar with Plantar Fasciitis, Achilles Tendinitis, and IT Band Syndrome, but one common condition that’s not as frequently discussed is urinary incontinence.

Urinary incontinence is defined as the involuntary leakage of urine. Stress Urinary Incontinence (SUI) is involuntary leakage on effort, exertion, sneezing or coughing resulting from changes/dysfunction in connective tissue and muscles of the pelvic floor.  While often associated with pregnancy/childbirth and estrogen deficiency following menopause, risk factors may also include strenuous exertion or physical activity.4 Researchers confirm that SUI occurs in about one quarter of women who have no history of pregnancy or delivery. (Greydanus et. al, 2010).1 A study of female athletes found that among the women who exercise, those involved in running and gymnastics have the most complaints about urine leaking. Another study of young non-child bearing women found that the activities provoking the greatest urine loss were those which included jumps, high-impact landing, and running.3

The impact absorbed during running and jumping activities creates an increase in intra-abdominal pressure, which places more stress on the muscles and connective tissue of the pelvic floor. Luckily, evidence supports physical therapy as an effective treatment for this condition.
Physical therapists who specialize in the treatment of women’s health conditions can help address the issue of incontinence.  Just as in treatment of any muscular dysfunction, she will perform an evaluation to identify and address the strength and effectiveness of the pelvic floor muscles to do their job.

Dr. Arnold Kegel, (well-known for his innovative pelvic health exercises) emphasized the importance of supervision and encouragement in the treatment of patients with incontinence. He reported that restoration of tone and muscle function could occur in 20 to 60 days after the start of treatment.2

Many female runners just accept the fact that they “leak a little” when they run. As it turns out, they don’t have to!

If you would like to find out if you are a good candidate for physical therapy to help with incontinence, please call for a complimentary consultation.


  1. Caetano A, Tavares MCGCF, Lopes MHB. Urinary Incontinence and Physical Activity Practice. Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte. August 2007. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1590/S1517-86922007000400012 .
  2. Knorst MR, Resende TL, Santos TG, Goldim JR. The effect of outpatient physical therapy intervention on pelvic floor muscles in women with urinary incontinence. Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy. 2013;17(5):442-449. doi:10.1590/s1413-35552012005000117.
  3.  Nygaard I, Thompsson FL, Svengalis SL. Urinary incontinence in elite nulliparous athletes. Obstet Gynecol. 1994;84:183-7.
  4. Poświata A, Socha T, Opara J. Prevalence of Stress Urinary Incontinence in Elite Female Endurance Athletes. Journal of Human Kinetics. 2014;44(1). doi:10.2478/hukin-2014-0114.