Bladder Leakage During Exercise? What’s Happening?!

TEAM KNIX / YOUR BODY

Nobody wants their bladder to leak involuntarily at any time. But during exercise can be a major stressor. After all, you want to be able to push your body to perform without being held back by fear.

Whether you’re a pro-athlete, a high impact trainer or an occasional exerciser, urine leakage during exercise can happen. This isn’t about how strong you are, or your fitness levels. And while it can cause embarrassment, it’s important to know you’re not alone and there are steps you can take to manage it.

But first, let’s look at what could be happening when you experience urine leakage during exercise.

The Culprit is Probably Stress Incontinence

There are many different forms of urine leakage (5 in fact) that can affect women. But if you’re experiencing involuntary urine leakage when exercising, the explanation is likely to be stress urinary incontinence (SUI).

SUI is the most common explanation of light bladder leaks among women. It affects an estimated 15 million adult women in the U.S. This also makes it the most common form of bladder leakage that women experience.

Of course, although it’s a likely culprit, this doesn’t replace an actual medical diagnosis: You should still see your doctor or healthcare provider to confirm a diagnosis properly.

What Is Stress Incontinence?

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SUI At-a-Glance

How / When it Manifests

Some Possible Causes

Treatment May Include

Urine loss during physical exertion, whether it be exercise or more physical reactions like coughing, sneezing, laughing etc.

  • Childbirth
  • Trauma from surgery (e.g. hysterectomy)
  • Weak bladder muscles
  • Weak pelvic floor muscles 
  • Menopause
  • Pelvic floor exercises (Kegel exercises) to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles
  • Surgery

If you’ve ever peed a little when you’ve:

  • Laughed
  • Sneezed
  • Coughed
  • Exercised
  • Had sexual intercourse
  • Lifted something heavy or bent over

… those are symptoms of SUI. It occurs when the body exerts and the muscles of your bladder and pelvic floor become compromised or less effective at doing their job, which includes holding in pee.

But those of us who haven't gone through childbirth are also at risk: Bladder leaks can also be caused by any surgery that impacts the muscles of the pelvic floor, including hysterectomy.

Moreover, damage to muscles is just one dimension. If your pelvic floor muscles are weak due to lack of exercise or just general aging, you may also experience bladder leaks. This is why pelvic floor exercises are widely recommended for all women, especially as we grow older.

What About Mixed Incontinence?

If you’ve read about all 5 explanations of urine leaks in women, you’ll know that another possible explanation of peeing when exercising is mixed incontinence, which is a combination of stress and urge incontinence. This is the second most common form of involuntary urine leakage in women.

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Mixed Incontinence At-a-Glance

How / When it Manifests

Some Possible Causes

Treatment May Include

A combination of stress and urge incontinence.

  • The same causes as stress and urge incontinence
  • Lifestyle changes
  • Medication
  • Bladder botox injections

What Can I Do About Leaking While Exercising?

Leaking pee while you exercise can certainly cause embarrassment and inconvenience. At worst, it could discourage you from exercise altogether. This would be a terrible loss, since exercise is so key to both our physical and emotional wellbeing, bringing numerous benefits to both body and mind.

So what are some things you can do to protect yourself during your favourite exercise routine?

Switch to Leakproof Underwear When Exercising

This is an easy and immediate change. It won’t solve the urine leak, but it will protect your clothing and keep you dry. What’s more leakproof underwear has come a long way! You probably won’t even notice the difference between your favourite underwear and leakproof underwear. 

Plus, it absorbs not just urine, but period blood and sweat. So you can be confident and dry no matter what’s happening! Super absorbent Knix leakproof underwear can hold up to 8 tsp of liquid (whether that’s sweat, blood or urine). Products like these can be a game changer for those experiencing bladder leakage, allowing them to remain active and social while exploring treatment options. 

Add Kegel Exercises to Your Workout

Kegel or pelvic floor muscle exercises strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, which support the uterus, bladder, small intestine and rectum. And good news for those of you who already devote enough time to exercise: Kegel or pelvic floor exercises can be done any time, either sitting or lying down. You can even do them when you are eating, sitting at your desk or watching TV. 

If you’re unsure how to do Kegel exercises, it’s like pretending you have to urinate and then holding it. You relax and tighten the muscles that control urine flow. 

One way to learn the muscles you should activate is to pay attention when you pee: Start to urinate and then stop. You should feel the muscles in your vagina, bladder, and anus get tight and move up. These are the pelvic floor muscles. A physical therapist will also be able to guide you to do these exercises correctly.

Talk to Your Doctor

Of course, it goes without saying that you should also talk to your doctor. Don’t simply manage your bladder leakage with lifestyle products and pretend it’s not happening. For starters, your doctor will be able to work with you to provide an accurate diagnosis of the type of incontinence you’re experiencing. 

They’ll also want to make sure your bladder leaks aren't a symptom of other, potentially more serious, conditions, however slim the chances of that are.

More than that, your doctor will be able to help you explore long term treatment options if your incontinence is not improved by Kegel exercises and other lifestyle changes. 

Other options they may explore include devices like a vaginal pessary or urethral insert. And on the surgical end of the spectrum, the most common option is the sling procedure. This procedure entails the surgeon using the person's own tissue, synthetic material, or donor tissue to create a ‘sling’ or hammock that supports the urethra. 

The outlook for stress urinary incontinence will depend on many factors including your age, your medical and reproductive history and the severity of your incontinence.