Do You Have a Moment to Talk About Your Pelvic Floor?

Annie Smith is 57, a lifelong athlete and learner. She was born and raised in Colorado but has claimed Texas as her home for most of her adult life. Ann started playing flag football in a city league at age 7 and an athlete was born! High school, a year of college sports and motherhood slowed her for a bit. She became a committed runner and tennis player at 40. Ann shares running with her 3 adult children and BRF, (best running friend) her husband of 36 years. She has ran in 10 countries (about to add Scotland)! Ann loves to run wherever she travels. She is a middle of the pack runner and wants to continue as long as possible. “Keep Moving Forward” is one of her guiding thoughts and “you can do more than you think you can!” is Ann’s mantra.

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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.

About the Author

Annie Smith is 57, a lifelong athlete and learner. She was born and raised in Colorado but has claimed Texas as her home for most of her adult life. Ann started playing flag football in a city league at age 7 and an athlete was born! High school, a year of college sports and motherhood slowed her for a bit. She became a committed runner and tennis player at 40. Ann shares running with her 3 adult children and BRF, (best running friend) her husband of 36 years. She has ran in 10 countries (about to add Scotland)! Ann loves to run wherever she travels. She is a middle of the pack runner and wants to continue as long as possible. “Keep Moving Forward” is one of her guiding thoughts and “you can do more than you think you can!” is Ann’s mantra.

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4 Responses

  1. Yay pelvic floor awareness! After 3 years of PT, several doctors, a chiro, a pessary, and finally a urologist, I found that my pelvic floor was in (reasonably) good shape but I had a hypermobile urethra. It was such a relief to finally have a diagnosis and to find out that it would most likely not be fixed with more kegels or additional PT. All my care providers decided it was time for sling surgery and I had 4 weeks ago. Just started running again and it is amazing! Keep advocating for your health! As runners, we know our bodies and know when something is wrong, even if that doctors are saying things like “your prolapse really isn’t that bad, you should be fine”.

  2. It’d be great if you could share the exercise you are doing for this. Please email me the exercises. Thanks so much! Jenny

  3. Someone finally knows about these problems. I have felt alone. Used to hike and run every day but stopped with doctor telling me legal would help. They did not. Walking and on my feet for too many hours would give me the problem and horrible pain I get. Maybe someone here has had this same problem. Here goes: sensor this as it is pretty gross. Stop reading now if you can not take gross. I have had this problem for years but hours of walking has helped make it somewhat better. But when winter sets in it is harder for me to walk for 5-6 hours so spring is like starting over. I miss my runs and hikes and 25-50 challenges. My uterus actually bulges out of my vaginal opening. To the point I have horrible pain and have to lay down and put my pelvis higher then my body so it goes back in, stand and put my hand on the ground like a dog bowing stance or manually do it. Please let me know on here and respond to me if you can guide me in any ways possible and if there is any hope for me. My 17 yr old son is running the 25-50k runs now and wishes I could run with him. I am depressed every day by this trouble that keeps me from accompanying my kids following their dreams. My 14 son want to start the runs but needs me to run or he won’t do them. Please tell me here if you can help me. Nobody has ever admitted to me that they have this trouble. You are my only hope. Please help me live again.

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