If you leak a little while running, you’re likely experiencing stress incontinence. This condition happens when certain movements pressure the bladder, overriding its ability to hold urine back.
Bladder leaks, ranging from mild to severe, are a real problem faced by many runners of all ages. And if you’re looking to the best strategies for preventing peeing while running then you have come to the right place.
In today’s article, I’ll explain the link between running (and exercise) and incontinence and describe how to prevent and treat it.
More specifically, I’ll cover the following:
- The Link Between Running and Urine Leaks
- Why You Pee When Running
- The Risk Factors For Urinary Stress Incontinence
- It is normal to Pee Yourself While Running
- The Main Categories and Causes
- How To Prevent Urine Leakage While Running
- Consult Your Doctor
- When to Consider Surgery
The Link Between Running and Urine Leaks
First, let’s learn more about incontinence.
Technically known as”stress urinary incontinence (SUI), the condition refers to the involuntary loss of urine triggered by increased pressure or abrupt bladder muscle contraction.
In other words, it’s when you cannot control your bladder.
Incontinence can be a minor nuisance (just small leaks now and then) to a complete loss of bladder control.
Surveys show that incontinence affects twice as many women as men. This may be blamed on hormonal changes and delivery history. At least one in three female runners over 30 may experience bladder leaks while running, research reports.
Why You Pee When Running
In most cases, you’ll experience leakage while running because you’re placing extra pressure on your bladder or pelvic floor muscles. Virtually all types of exercises, such as running, jumping, cycling, and weight lifting, can be under such pressure.
No one is immune. You may also experience leakage when coughing or sneezing.
Simply put, stress incontinence happens when the pressure on the bladder surpasses your internal capacity while running and exercising. In female runners, running puts vertical pressure on the perineum thanks to gravity, which can result in leakage.
Surveys show that around 1 in 3 women sometimes suffer from SUI. The most common reason for SUI is the natural decline in pelvic floor muscle strength that comes with age.
The Risk Factors For Urinary Stress Incontinence
The following increases your risks of SUI:
- Age, especially in people over 65 years old.
- Pregnancy and childbirth procedures are often associated with the weakening of the perineum, which causes SUI.
- A higher body mass index—the more overweight you’re, the greater your risk of developing SUI.
- High impact activity
- Weak pelvic floor muscles
- Having a history of bladder conditions
It is normal to Pee Yourself While Running
Though it’s not normal, it’s more common than you think. Surveys say that 25 million adult Americans deal with urinatory incontinence.
So if you’re experiencing some urine leakage while running, know you’re not alone. Instead, you’re among a large percentage.
Again, don’t take my word for it. This survey has revealed that roughly half of the female runners experience incontinence while running.
Most of the women in the survey had never given birth. This means they had no pelvic floor damage because of pregnancy or childbirth.
The Main Categories and Causes
Urinary incontinence is split into three main categories: Stress Urinary Incontinence (or SUI), Urgency Urinary Incontinence (UUI), and Urinary Overflow incontinence (OUI).
Let’s break them down.
Stress Urinary Incontinence
SUI, for short, is the most common type of incontinence among runners—and the topic of today’s post. This stress has nothing to do with the emotional anxiety you experience when fighting with your partner or preparing for your first marathon.
In this case, the stress stems from intra-abdominal pressure, forcing urine to leak out. This is often triggered by sneezing, couching, jumping, and running.
Often referred to as overactive bladder, this happens when your bladder muscles squeeze incorrectly or lose the ability to relax. This often happens before you can get to the toilet.
Most common in the elderly, urge incontinence may indicate an overactive bladder, a tract infection from the imbalance passage, or prostate problems.
Overflow incontinence is having the urge to urinate but only releasing a small amount.
Because the bladder isn’t emptying fully, it leaks urine later. This is usually caused by something blocking the urethra, which causes urine build-up in the bladder.
How To Prevent Peeing When Running
Now that you know why you’re leaking urine while running, what can you do?
Strengthen Your Pelvic Floor
The ideal way to limit urinary incontinence in runners is to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, the sheet of muscles that supports the bladder and bowel.
When this sheet of muscle weakens, you may experience urine leakage whenever stress or strain is placed on it, especially when running.
Kegel exercises might help you, in which you consciously engage, then loosen the muscles that regulate urine flow. This helps strengthen your pelvic floor, rectum, sphincter, bladder, and small intestine.
Don’t take my word for it. Research has reported that subjects who performed pelvic floor muscle training regularly were much more likely to improve their leaking than those who didn’t get training.
To locate your pelvic floor muscle, stop urinating in midstream.
If you can do that, you’ve got the right muscles. Here’s how to perform Kegel exercises:
- Squeeze the muscle you use to stop urinating midstream.
- Hold the squeeze for 6 to 8 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds.
- Perform three to four sets daily. And that’s it.
Repeat the movement 12 to 16 times in a row—and remember to do the exercise daily.
While investing time in strengthening your pelvic floor is a step in the right direction, other measures can help you get back to running comfortably.
Padding is one of them.
Many over-the-counter products limit leaks before they happen. These often consist of small, soft foam patches that gently attach over the urethra to limit leaks while running.
As a rule, use a pad designed for bladder leakage instead of menstruation. According to my research, incontinence pads and sanitary pads are different things. Menstrual pads are designed for that purpose and don’t mesh well with liquid as they’re mainly cottonwood based.
A wide range of incontinence products is also available. These are also designed for runners and people with a more active lifestyle. You can also go for stretchy incontinence pants that provide freedom of movement.
You should also be prepared, especially on long runs. Bring wet wipes or tissue and spray stored in a Ziploc bag in case of an emergency.
Keep a Diary
Use a diary to keep track of your bladder habits. This should help you determine when to hit the bathroom to minimize leaks while running.
Monitoring your bladder mishaps gives you a deeper insight into the severity of your condition, which can also help you develop a more well-rounded bladder control training program specific to you.
Planning to see a physician? Then try to keep the urine journal for at least a week beforehand, then take it to your consultation.
In this diary, record the following
- Time of urination
- The volume and types of liquids consumed
- diuretic liquid consumption, like coffee.
- Voluntary or involuntary urination
- Period of time between each bathroom break
- And anything else related to your urine habits
As the name implies, bladder training is a plan that involves urinating on a schedule. The objective is to slow the amount of liquid you can hold comfortably.
Bladder training has often been used as a treatment for an overactive bladder. This method can be used alone or with medications and other interventions (some of which I’ll discuss in the following paragraphs).
Bladder training can help improve your stress incontinence symptoms by increasing the length of times your body can hold urine. This method is a low-cost, low-risk, and convenient way that doesn’t inherently require the guidance of a professional.
It’s simple. The program involves peeing on a set schedule to increase the time between restroom uses.
To begin bladder training, hold your pee for five minutes when you feel the urge to use a restroom. Then, slowly increase the time by roughly three to five minutes. Of course, this may feel challenging at first, but sooner or later, you’ll be making fewer trips to the bathroom.
Empty Your Bladder
This may seem redundant, but it’s a step many runners fail to take.
After all, a bursting bladder is more likely to leak than an empty one.
Exercising with a full bladder may also make you feel uncomfortable. It can even cause UT stone, according to research.
As a rule, stop by the bathroom before leaving and completely clear your bladder.
I’d suggest you do a double-void—urinate, wait for a couple of minutes, then urinate again. This ensures you got nothing left in the”tank.”
Plan Your Toilet Stops
As usual, planning is essential.
If you’re running for a long distance, plan your route around where you can stop for a restroom. For example, have a route that passes convenience stores with public bathrooms where you can easily pop in if you need to pee.
You can also use an app like SitOrSquat that shows you where the restrooms are along a pre-planned route.
Remember to bring some change with you, as some service stations may require them to use the restroom.
Another thing you can do to better manage your toilet stop is to pay attention to how you breathe. Though you might not see the connection, how you breathe while running can impact your pelvic floor muscles.
Breathing is crucial for limiting pressure on the pelvic floor while running.
On the inhale, the muscles of your pelvic floor are pushed downward, and on the exhale, these muscles draw upward.
If you’re breathing inefficiently while running, your pelvic flood muscles might be impaired, weakening them. This, in turn, may contribute to SUI.
To breathe correctly while running, ensure you’re breathing deeply in a relaxed and synchronized manner.
Wear Black Pants
If you don’t mind sogging yourself but prefer to keep it away from other people, consider wearing black running shorts, leggings, or pants. This simply trick can, at the very least, help you prevent any embarrassing scenarios.
To go the extra mile, consider getting loose-fitting clothing to hide any extra protection you might use to stop leakage while running.
Consult Your Doctor About Urine Leaks
Consult a doctor to determine the right treatment and plan for you. The rest is just details. Depending on the severity of your incontinence and what you can cope with, your physician may suggest any of the following treatment options:
- Medication. This can help your bladder retain more, improve your ability to empty it, and reduce urgency.
- A Botox injection into the lining of the bladder to limit the release of chemicals that trigger muscle contractions.
Most treatment options for SUI are un-invasive and do not involve surgery, but in some cases, non-invasive intervention might not be enough.
The type of surgery you’ll need will depend on the severity of your condition and how much you can handle. Overall most physicians will only recommend surgery for severe conditions.
The two most common types of surgery to help with stress incontinence are tension-free vaginal tape and burch colposuspension.
Other procedures, used less often, include:
- Sling procedure
- Bulking agents
- Anterior vaginal repair
- Artificial sphincters
Peeing When Running – The Conclusion
There you have it! You have several options for managing and preventing leakage while running. Try following some of the above strategies, and don’t let stress incontinence keep you from logging the miles.