Managing Stress Incontinence in Athletes: Strategies and Solutions

Participating in sports and athletic activities offers numerous physical and mental benefits, but for some athletes, it can come with unexpected challenges, such as stress incontinence. Stress incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine during physical activities that put pressure on the bladder. While this condition can be distressing, it’s essential for athletes to know that they are not alone, and there are effective strategies to manage and even prevent stress incontinence. This blog post aims to explore the causes of stress incontinence in athletes and provide practical tips for its management.

 Causes of Stress Incontinence in Athletes:
Stress incontinence occurs due to weakened pelvic floor muscles and poor control over the bladder. In athletes, this can be caused by: 

  1. High-Impact Activities: The repeated impact and pressure placed on the pelvic area during activities like running, jumping, and weightlifting can strain the pelvic floor muscles, leading to stress incontinence.
  1. Pregnancy and Childbirth: Female athletes who have given birth may experience stress incontinence due to the strain childbirth places on the pelvic floor muscles.
  1. Age: Athletes who have been participating in sports for years might experience age-related weakening of the pelvic floor muscles.
  1. Overtraining: Excessive training without adequate recovery can lead to muscle imbalances, including weak pelvic floor muscles, increasing the risk of stress incontinence.

Managing Stress Incontinence:

While stress incontinence can be bothersome, there are various strategies athletes can employ to manage or alleviate the condition: 

  1. Pelvic Floor Exercises: Regularly performing pelvic floor exercises, such as Kegels, can strengthen the muscles that support the bladder and prevent leakage. Athletes should consult a pelvic health specialist to learn proper techniques.
  1. Core Strengthening: Strengthening the core muscles can provide better support to the pelvic area, reducing the impact of stress incontinence. Pilates and specific core exercises can be beneficial.
  1. Hydration and Timing: Maintaining proper hydration is essential, but athletes should strategically time their fluid intake to avoid overloading the bladder before activities. Emptying the bladder before exercise can also help reduce the risk of leakage.
  1. Breathing Techniques: Proper breathing during exercise can reduce intra-abdominal pressure, minimising stress on the pelvic floor.
  1. Gradual Training Progression: Athletes should avoid sudden increases in exercise intensity or volume, allowing their bodies to adapt gradually and reduce the strain on pelvic floor muscles.
  1. Appropriate Clothing and Gear: Wearing supportive clothing and gear can help reduce the impact on the pelvic area during activities.
  1. Professional Guidance: Athletes experiencing stress incontinence should consult healthcare professionals, such as pelvic health physiotherapists, who specialise in treating pelvic floor issues.
  1. Biofeedback and Electrical Stimulation: These techniques can aid in retraining the pelvic floor muscles and improving their control.


Preventing Stress Incontinence:

Prevention is key, and athletes can take proactive steps to reduce their risk of developing stress incontinence: 

  1. Cross-Training: Engaging in a variety of exercises can prevent overuse of certain muscles and reduce the risk of pelvic floor weakness.
  1. Proper Warm-up and Cool-down: Adequate warm-up and cool-down routines can prepare the body for exercise and promote better recovery, minimising the strain on pelvic muscles.
  1. Maintain Healthy Body Weight: Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce pressure on the pelvic floor and support overall muscle function.
  1. Stay Informed: Athletes should educate themselves about proper techniques, training progression, and signs of overtraining to prevent pelvic floor issues.


Stress incontinence might pose challenges for athletes, but with the right strategies and solutions, it doesn’t have to limit their performance or enjoyment of sports. By taking a holistic approach that includes pelvic floor exercises, core strengthening, proper hydration, and seeking professional guidance when needed, athletes can effectively manage stress incontinence and continue to pursue their athletic goals with confidence. If this sounds like you, book an appointment to see our Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist.  Ph 07 38622322

Written By Karen Jamieson
Physiotherapist – Special interest Pelvic / Women’s Health

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