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Invisible barrier to exercise

For many women there is an invisible barrier preventing them from exercising.  Pelvic floor symptoms can severely impact someone’s ability to participate in exercise. New research has come to light recognising this invisible barrier and the impact that pelvic floor symptoms have on exercise and sport participation. 50% of women experiencing pelvic floor symptoms stop exercising. This research shows many women either stop or change the type of exercise they are participating in by either lowering the intensity or modifying exercises. It also showed that women felt embarrassed or didn’t know who to tell due to a lack of knowledge surrounding pelvic health. 

Pelvic floor symptoms women experience while exercising include urinary incontinence, pelvic pain, and prolapse symptoms often causing most women to suffer in silence. People associate pregnancy and childbirth with incontinence however, it’s highly prevalent in those who have not had children. During exercise women from as young as 18-25 reported being affected, including those who had not had children.

One in three women will experience urine leakage when they exercise. Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) is a condition where there is involuntary leakage of urine during activities that increase intra-abdominal pressure, such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, or physical exertion. This type of urinary incontinence is particularly relevant for females in sport due to the physical demands and pressures exerted on the pelvic floor during athletic activities. SUI is prevalent among female athletes, particularly those participating in high-impact sports such as gymnastics, running, and aerobics. Many athletes may not report stress incontinence due to embarrassment or the belief that it is a normal part of physical activity.

Risk factors for incontinence in sport

High impact activities

  • Sports involving jumping, running or heavy lifting increase intra-abdominal pressure straining pelvic floor muscles.

Training intensity

  • Increased levels of training and competition can exacerbate symptoms

Hormonal changes

  • Fluctuation in hormones can impact the strength and function of pelvic floor muscles. Typically during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause are when these fluctuations occur.

 

Strategies for overcoming pelvic floor barriers

  • Pelvic floor physiotherapy
  • Education and awareness
  • Lifestyle modifications
  • Supportive sports wear
  • Low impact exercise alternatives

Pelvic floor symptoms should not be a barrier to sport and exercise. With the right support, education, and strategies, women can overcome these challenges and reclaim their active lifestyles. Empowering women to understand their pelvic health and providing them with the tools and support needed to manage symptoms is essential. Spreading awareness, and creating a supportive environment where women feel confident to participate in sport and activities they love.

  • Alex

References:

Dakic, J. G., Hay-Smith, E. J. C., Lin, K-Y., Cook, J. L., & Frawley, H. C. (2023). Women’s preferences for pelvic floor screening in sport and exercise: a mixed-methods study integrating survey and interview data in Australian women. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 57(24), 1539-1549. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2023-107017

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