Only moms and older ladies leak, right? Wrong!
I was 19 years old, in my first year of college and just past the prime of my athletic career. I was getting back into club gymnastics after a 6-year hiatus and so excited to be able to return to a sport I had once loved so much. I loved to run hard, jump high, flip fast and accomplish new skills. However, my feelings of excitement getting back into the gym were quickly overtaken by a huge sense of embarrassment and worry – I was feeling things that I had not felt before as a 13-year-old competing even more competitively in the same sport.
I was leaking urine, and I was wearing a leotard. I was leaking? I was leaking!? And not just with higher intensity and skilled tumbling passing on the floor, but even landing from small jumps on the balance beam, running towards the vault and then most definitely while practicing skills on the trampoline. I kind of thought that it was odd – I mean I hadn’t had a baby and I wasn’t “old” either and those are the things that would cause me to leak, right? (Wrong, keep reading for a possible explanation of these symptoms)
The only thing that made me feel slightly less embarrassed and worried, was that at least half of the girls on my team were experiencing the same symptoms. We were talking about it, and it didn’t seem “normal” but the fact that most of the girls on the team were experiencing the same thing also made it seem like it might not be “abnormal.” Nobody has a solution except for pads, so pads became the new currency. But how do you wear a pad in a leotard? You don’t unless you wear underwear too – and then you had better make sure there was no part of that sticking out of your leotard. I would also go to the bathroom before every new event, so around 4 times in the space of 2 hours and I was still leaking.
And then I started PT school and found out that while leaking may be common it certainly wasn’t optimal (I knew this already – it was a huge pain) and that there was a way to treat it or mitigate symptoms. Looking back there were a couple factors that may have been contributing to my leaking. I was either drinking coffee or taking some caffeine supplement prior to practice (hello bladder irritant!), add dehydration to the mix and you’re asking for trouble. I had not been doing the same amount or intensity of high impact activity that comes with gymnastics in several years, so my body had not adapted to those stressors, and we jumped straight into 2-hour practices from the get-go. And the final contributing factor I hypothesized for my leaking was that I had an overactive pelvic floor that was unable to relax and accept the pressures I was placing on it. Combine all of these factors and it was no wonder that I was leaking – even though I hadn’t had children and I wasn’t old!
If I ever want to venture back into the sport of gymnastics (which I do not at this point in my life) – I would expect my symptoms to be decreased compared to when I was participating in college with the knowledge I have now, and with the work I have put into to improving my pelvic floor functioning. Would I hold up to a 2-hour practice? Probably not because my body is not accused to that type of load, and I have not trained specifically for that type of activity. But if I did, I would probably be able to give my 19-year-old self a run for her money!
Dr. Sam Greig.
This blog was written by our very own Pelvic/Women’s Specialist, Dr. Sam Greig.