Well here goes – I’m about to talk about a topic that comes up regularly on the RMA Facebook page and affects many RMA members – incontinence… yep I said it “peeing your pants”, wetting yourself”, ‘Light Bladder Leakage (LBL)”, and I suffer from it.

The type of incontinence I, and many mother runners are inflicted with is Stress Incontinence.

Stress incontinence is the leaking of small amounts (sometimes not so small if you forget to go to the toilet before your run :)) of urine during activities that increase pressure inside the abdomen and pushes down on the bladder.

Stress incontinence is most common with activities such as coughing, sneezing, laughing, walking, lifting, playing sport and most definitely RUNNING!! Other factors contributing to stress incontinence include diabetes, chronic cough (linked with asthma, smoking or bronchitis), constipation and obesity.

Stress incontinence in women is often caused by pregnancy, childbirth and menopause. Pregnancy and childbirth can stretch and weaken the pelvic floor muscles that support the urethra causing stress incontinence during activities that push down on the bladder. This is me – two babies delivered vaginally with tearing and a not so consistent regime of pelvic floor exercises (pretty poor actually) before, during and after pregnancy, has resulted in stress incontinence almost every time I run – I should ask Poise to sign me up as an ambassador!

Like most mums I always seem to put my children, husband, household, work, friends, extended family, dogs, cats, chocolate, tables, streetlamps, apples, and basically anything else in life before my own needs, and I have been putting off seeing a professional about my incontinence since the birth of my son 4 years ago.

According to the Continence Foundation of Australia, 70% of people with urinary leakage do not seek advice and treatment for their problem.

Well I’m finally no longer part of that statistic, today I finally took myself off to the women’s physiotherapist and started the journey to getting things repaired. I guess the other reason I had been avoiding addressing the issue, was the fear that I would be told that I would have to stop running.

The appointment started with questions about my births, toilet habits, running, the incontinence itself and sex. I don’t know about you but once you have been pregnant and given birth – no topic seems to be taboo anymore. “Oh you want to know how often I poo? Sure I’ll tell you”, “you want to know what it feels like when I have sex, yep no problem”, “have I finished having babies, Bahahaha absofreakinlutely!!!!”

The physio also asked me how much is running a part of my life – um well its HUGE, is that going to be a problem? Not at all, just want to know what we are dealing with and what we are dealing with is a RUNNER – yay! thanks lady we are on the same page 🙂

Following the questions it was time for an examination – no ladies not sitting in a freezing hall with pen and paper and teachers hovering around you making sure you don’t cheat – an internal examination – bring it on!! Let’s get this pelvic floor working!! The examination consisted of the physio looking at the opening of my vagina, using her fingers to feel the walls of my vagina and me practicing pelvic floor exercises around her fingers… it wasn’t anything I hadn’t experienced before during other examinations for pap smears, fertility treatment, pregnancies and birth and it didn’t take long.

So the diagnosis – weak pelvic floor, a weakened fascia, and a mild prolapse of the front and rear wall of my vagina… I wasn’t really surprised but what does this mean? Basically, I need to build up the strength in my muscles… lots of controlled, timed and consistent pelvic floor exercises. Starting off with only 2 second holds and increasing slowly but only once each stage is perfected, then adding weighted pessaries to strength the muscles even more (my vagina is going to be buff :)). Also I have a pessary to use during my runs, a strange rubber cube that, once inserted into the vagina suctions to the vaginal walls and helps to stop them from collapsing in, and this may help to reduce leaking.

What’s the prognosis – after 3 to 6 months of consistent exercises, my pelvic floor should be ready to enter a weight lifting competition 🙂 and my incontinence should be diminished. In some cases no matter how much strength you regain some women still have incontinence, particularly those who have had over stretching of the fascia, but we will cross that bridge if or when we come to it.

For now I have to be diligent in doing my exercise program consistently and on my next run I will try out my pessary. I have a follow up appointment in six weeks and hopefully my little muscles have some gains – I wonder if they would benefit from some muscle building supplements? 🙂

So if you suffer from stress incontinence do something about it, take the steps to fix the issue, put yourself first and make an appointment – don’t be embarrassed or frightened as there are so many others going through the same thing, and let’s talk about it – a problem shared is a problem halved.

Mel Sykes-Bridge

RMA Ambassador and mum of two.