As we celebrate the spectacle that is the Olympic Games, let's spare a thought for the sacrifices of these dedicated, focused and driven young women.

Urinary incontinence is frequent among young childless women who practice physical activities and sports. It seems that high-impact sport that demands maximum effort increases the risk factor for developing urinary incontinence.

Stress urinary incontinence is the most common form of bladder weakness for elite athletes. How can this be when these women are slim, super-fit and in peak condition, many training for hours every day? Intense physical exertion exaggerates intra-abdominal pressure with a possible overload on the pelvic organs forcing them downwards. Prolonged exposure to pressure at this level can injure the supporting muscles of the pelvic organs.

Gymnastics and running were the sports that showed the highest urine loss. In a recent  study, 156 athletes with an average age of just 19.9 years responded to the questionnaire - 28% reported losing urine during their sporting activity.

What can be done to help incontinence in our Olympians?

By highlighting urinary incontinence problems among elite athletes it helps to make these young women and their coaches aware of the problem and gain a greater understanding of their bodies. Once they are aware of the tell-tale signs of a weak pelvic floor they can learn to strengthen where they need it most. We need to make sure that our next generation of female Olympians do not suffer through ignorance and embarrassment.

Physical education professionals and Sports Coaches are responsible for sports teaching and learning about physical activities so this should form part of their training to ensure that all their future female athletes can be trained to support and strengthen their pelvic floors and exercise correctly to counteract the strains that their chosen sport exerts upon it.

Sadly for 1 in 4 of our female Olympians results indicate that urinary incontinence early in life is a strong predictor of urine incontinence later in life too.


[1] Are former female elite athletes more likely to experience urinary incontinence later in life than non-athletes? K. Bø1, J. Sundgot-BorgenNov 2008

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