If you’ve had a baby, you were told (IF they told you) to do Kegel exercises post-delivery. That “stop your pee” midstream exercise that was going to fix everything! If you didn’t have a baby, were you ever told about your pelvic floor? Women with painful periods and endometriosis are often people with weakened pelvic muscles. Do you know how pelvic floor health impacts you as a runner?
I am writing this to alert women that you no longer must suffer as a runner or stop your activity because you have issues with pelvic floor health. My purpose here is to enlighten you to what the symptoms may be, specifically the urinary type, and to acquaint female runners to this issue that in most likelihood will affect you at some point in your life and show you some options. The specific exercises to assist strengthening them are varied and many! And that’s the good news. I saw complete improvement and was so sad that I had waited so long before addressing the issue. My fear of surgery or the embarrassment of it all kept me from attempting a fix.
I am a retired nurse and a woman who gave birth to three children and have been a lifelong athlete predominantly a runner and tennis player as I’ve matured through life. As I’ve become older, I had more issues with some of the symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction. Many of them had been there since my childbirth years. In all honesty, I never fully understood what it all meant to me both as a woman, and as a runner. Why would I think that what was going on “down there” could impact my running?
The pelvic floor consists of muscles that support your bladder, uterus, and bowels. Pretty darn important, yet it’s only recently really been addressed more publicly. I have found that even gynecologists had not fully embraced the information I was telling them; therefore, I wasn’t getting the help I needed. This is fairly common and it is one of the reasons that I always tell patients and friends to say it again, and say it again, and say it again, until someone is listening to you. Don’t let embarrassment or an unwillingness from a physician or nurse hearing you be the thing that stops you from getting the help you need. Often, it’s far more simple than you would know. Women have suffered in silence or not even known that there were options out there for them. I often wonder how many women have stopped running or being active because they had pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD)?
We need strong muscles to keep our bladder and urethra in place to prevent leaking. We need strong muscles to maintain our uterus in position so that we don’t suffer from prolapse or painful or other weaknesses that can then put stress on our bowels and bladder. We need strong muscles to maintain proper bowel health. That means being able to poop in a normal way and control it. It isn’t just talking about fecal leakage; constipation can be a symptom as well. And let’s face it ladies we need strong muscles to maintain our sexual health. If you are running and you are leaking urine or feces or if you have a uterus that has prolapsed, you have a difficult circumstance on your hands. In all honesty you might quit running.
My biggest symptom for PFD was occasional urine leakage and more specifically after the muscles would get tired and the distances got longer. So, I was shortening my runs in order to accommodate the problem. I wasn’t a happy runner anymore.
After I had had enough, had been embarrassed enough, and had loved running MORE than the embarrassment, I repeated again and again to three different doctors that I wanted to be active and continue running and needed help.
That was the beginning. I am so grateful to my GP who was a woman who listened to me and sent me to a genitourinary specialist. A urogynecologist-also a woman. Do you see a trend here? I highly encourage women helping women because we understand what we are going through. Absolutely no “shade” towards men, but women get what we are going through, and they hear the language that we speak more readily. I wish that weren’t true, but I think we have all felt that at times it’s harder for a male doctor to hear what we are saying to them.
So, through a series of tests, we discovered that my bladder was fine, but the muscles surrounding that area were weak. Not only that but when my muscles became tired through running, they would then allow too much flexibility around my urethra which would make it bounce around and allow urine to leak from my it (the tube that takes “pee” from the bladder to outside our bodies).
So, what did I do? I was sent to a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor dysfunction. Through a series of exercises and five to six weeks of work and continuing these exercises I have seen marked improvement. It included the use of everything in a runner’s toolbox; weight bearing exercises, floor work, modifying my cadence. Guess what? If I didn’t start fast as we do in speed work, I didn’t have a sudden burst of urine loss. Who knew?
It’s a difficult process as women when we have been highly active, competitive, and want to continue these behaviors through our Masters’ years. But I hope this gives you hope and gives you a window into the possibilities of conquering these sorts of issues. I consider myself to be an average runner but an avid lover of running who’s been running a long time and I want to continue this for as long as humanly possible because I believe that it is through movement that we keep moving forward.