By Evelyn Hecht PT, ATC

Thirty three percent (33%) of elite female athletes leak urine during training/competition. These girls/women typically do not tell anyone (coaches, parents, teammates) because they feel embarrassment and shame. They try to manage their leaking issues on their own by wearing pads, make frequent bathroom trips and even restrict fluid intake which does not address the cause of leaking. Pelvic physical therapy helps female athletes overcome leaking within 1-2 months of treatment so the athlete can focus on achieving their best performance.

Elite female athletes are typically between the ages of 15 and 39 years, train a minimum of 8 hours per week for their sport and qualify for a high-level or national team.
Sports that involve jumping, high impact landings and running were the activities most likely to provoke urine loss. Many of these athletes reported that leaking issues interfered with their mental focus to achieve top performance in their sport. The following are results from a number of studies regarding elite athletes and leaking:

  • 95% of Female athletes who had an involuntary loss of urine experienced this during training and 50% experienced this during competition.
  • 28 to 35% of high school and collegiate female athletes report incidents of leaking
  • 88% of young trampolinists in one study had an incident or more of urine loss during their jumping activities.

The uncontrolled loss of urine, from a few drops to more, is called Stress Urinary Incontinence(SUI).
SUI is defined as the involuntary loss of urine during activities such as exercise, coughing, laughing or sneezing. Leaking occurs because the force from the abdominal region during laughing or lifting overcomes the strength of the pelvic floor muscles which surrounds the urethra to prevent leaking. The urethra is the hose-like structure that runs from the bladder. The pelvic floor muscles lie at the bottom of the pelvis surrounding the urethra keeping the urethra closed during activities. The pelvic floor muscles relax allowing the flow of urine when voiding. If they are weak or uncoordinated, the pelvic floor muscles need to be retrained to be more functional and keep the athlete dry during sport.

Female athletes should be educated about leaking issues so they don’t feel shame and can seek help. Some questions to ask female athlete are:

  • Do you accidentally leak during training or competition?
  • Do you wear protective pads during training or sports matches?
  • Do you make frequent trips to the bathroom or go “just in case”?
  • Do you restrict your water/fluid intake for fear of leaking?

With the expert assessment and guidance by a pelvic physical therapist, female athletes learn that accidental leakage is mainly due to pelvic floor muscle dysfunction. They will learn self help techniques and exercises to retrain their pelvic floor muscles to attain full continence during their sport.

By Evelyn Hecht PT, ATC
EMH Physical Therapy 

Developer of PelvicTrack App and PelvicTrack Professional