Urinary leakage is traditionally thought of as an older person’s complaint – however, as women all over Australia will tell you, bladder leakage is their reality as well.  The number of young women experiencing urinary leakage is on the rise and we now know that impact from exercise plays a part in a woman’s risk profile for developing urinary leakage.

In most cases, urinary leakage is easily treated with the right diagnosis and intervention. The difficulty is, getting good pelvic health care information into the public domain so women know who they should see and what to expect in a consultation. We spoke to Alex Lopes, the Australian Physiotherapy Association National Chair of the Women’s, Men’s and Pelvic Health Group and Director of Pelvic Health Melbourne, to get the down low on the leaky issue affecting more than 4.8 million Australians.

How many women in Australia are living with a leakage problem?

“One in four 15-39 year old women experience urinary leakage, and as we get older the statistics get higher. 49.5% of 40-59 year old women experience leakage, mostly due to menopausal changes and in the 60-80 years old bracket, there is a slight decrease in incidence due to a slower and less heavily loaded lifestyle – however, 43% of these women still suffer,” says Alex.

Does my choice of exercise and how often I train affect the leakage?

“What you choose to do and how often you do it correlates to the amount you leak and how often you leak. For example, 56-67% of gymnasts experience stress urinary incontinence, in comparison to only 1-6% of swimmers,” says Alex.

“So, if you are exercising and experiencing leakage, see a pelvic health physiotherapist first. Whilst undergoing treatment you can lessen the impact of your exercise and the frequency of the impact sessions and mix it up with lower impact sport or exercise.”

Pelvic floor 101

Pelvic floor exercises involve flexing the same muscles you use to stop the flow of urine,  and are top on the list of remedies you can try at home to help improve pelvic strength.

  1. Imagine you are stopping the flow of urine. The muscles you using are pelvic floor muscles. This is what you’ll focus on contracting during pelvic floor muscle exercises.
  2. Focus on tightening the pelvic floor muscles. Hold this position for about five seconds at a time. Relax the muscles and then repeat five times. As your muscles get stronger, increase the duration to 10 seconds and 10 repetitions. Perform the exercises 3  times a day.
  3. Breathe normally when doing these exercises.
  4. Avoid squeezing your stomach, thighs, or buttocks instead of your pelvic floor muscles.

Need help? You can chat to your Physiotherapist to check if you’re squeezing the right muscles.

Bladder boot-camp

“If you experience bladder urgency you can help reboot your bladder muscles. The idea is to let the urge to urinate pass before going to the bathroom and gradually work your way toward longer holding times,” says Alex.

Ready for bladder boot-camp? Try these steps to start to retrain your bladder:

  • Keep a journal to determine how frequently you go to the bathroom.
  • Delay urination with small intervals. Once you feel the need to pee, see if you can hold off for five minutes and work your way up.
  • Schedule trips to the bathroom. You can keep a journal to see how often you need to go and delay that time. You can start with 10 minute delays and work your way up to every three to four hours. Most women should be able to wait three to six hours between bathroom breaks.

“The most important message to take away is that although bladder leakage is common it can be treated and often cured with the right help,” says Alex. If you’re already experiencing leakage, she recommends going to see a pelvic health Physiotherapist who can help cure or significantly improve your pelvic health dysfunction.