If you’re an avid runner and you leak when you run — either a little or a lot — you might be frustrated or embarrassed about leaking urine while running. This is a common problem many runners face. But it’s not normal and shouldn’t just be accepted. Let’s face it: Wearing black running pants, pads, and special underwear helps us cope, but they aren’t solutions. And we’re not giving up running or any other physical activity we love. So, what can we do to stop these annoying bladder leaks while we run? Here are some expert tips.
Perfect your breathing
Breathing is a common technique taught in physical therapy. Breathing is an especially important aspect to reduce pressure on your pelvic floor while running. Here’s why:
When we take a breath in and have our belly rise and expand, our diaphragm contracts and moves down and the pelvic floor relaxes, stretches, and also moves down. When we breathe out and have our belly fall back down, the diaphragm moves back up to its elevated resting position and the pelvic floor also draws back up. This is a natural coordination to help with managing intra-abdominal pressure to reduce injury or issues like incontinence or prolapse.
While running, make sure to practice this breathing and muscle coordination by inhaling, exhaling, and while exhaling squeeze and lift the pelvic floor muscles while gently drawing in — but not overworking — your lower abs. With practice, you will find it helps reduce your bladder leaks when you run!
Don’t flex your abs
Some runners have a tendency to run with flexed upper or lower abs. This stresses and strains pelvic floor muscles. So, if you are “gripping” or “sucking in” your abs during running, you are only making your pelvic floor weaker by pushing it down and over stretching it — risking more bladder leaks. Try not to tense your abs — this should help you perfect your breathing too.
Perfect your form
When running with proper form, it will help to distribute forces equally through your lower body and abdomen to reduce pressure on the bladder and pelvic floor that can lead to leakage. Thinking “tall” with a slight forward lean is helpful to propel your body forward during running. Make sure during push off to focus on your back leg and glutes versus your forward leg and over working your hip flexors. Soft landing with your midfoot and keeping your knees slightly bent are great ways to help distribute forces better through your body while on a run. Keep your eyes on the prize – keep looking forward and not down at the floor.
Do you need to strengthen your pelvic floor?
You may be surprised to learn that both overactive and underactive pelvic floor muscles can lead to bladder leaks. It can be difficult to tell which camp you might fall in but here are some tips.
First, try performing a Kegel.
Are you able to feel a change in your pelvic floor muscles when you perform a Kegel? Can you feel these muscles move up and in and then relax back down? Can you hold this for 10 seconds? If you’re unsure how to do a Kegel, watch our video, Learn how to do a Kegel in 2 easy steps, featuring Leah Fulker, PT, DPT.
- If you can feel these muscles moving but are not able to hold them for any length of time, then you probably have underactive pelvic floor muscles.
- If you try to squeeze your pelvic floor muscles and don’t feel much change between a squeeze and release, or if you have pain with tampons, sex or a pelvic exam, you might have overactive pelvic floor muscles.
In the case of underactive pelvic floor muscles, pelvic floor strengthening is an important part to regain bladder control. In the case of overactive pelvic floor muscles, you will first need to learn relaxation techniques then work on pelvic floor strengthening. Pelvic floor strengthening is not a high intensity exercise — it’s an isolated and coordinated exercise that improves bladder control.
Questions? Check out our Demystifying the pelvic floor video to get a good visual of the pelvic floor muscles and learn more about their role. You can also connect with our free Ask a PT feature here on our site if you have questions about the pelvic floor or SUI leaks — or seek out your medical doctor or a pelvic floor physical therapist for additional help.