In The News: Elite athletes open up about the incontinence crisis women in their sports face

This article appears in the Daily Mail.

Some of Britain’s top Olympians have revealed they have seen ‘urine flying through the air’ at competitions as female athletes are suffering an ‘incontinence crisis’.

Team GB trampolinist Laura Gallagher Cox, 32, and her teammate Izzy Songhurst, 23, who represented the UK at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, have explained how they now experience stress incontinence while performing.

For many female athletes in high impact sports like gymnastics or rugby, the issue occurs when a constant downward pressure is placed on the pelvic floor to the extent where it becomes too tight.

Laura and Izzy told The Telegraph that they have to wear pads while competing or go to the bathroom five times a session. They said that the anxiety they get from the fear of leakage can throw them off their game.

Laura, who won the 2017 British National Championship in trampolining,  explained: ‘I’ve been at competitions where I’ve seen girls pee as they take off – when they do a double back somersault you’ll genuinely see urine flying through the air.’

Laura, who won the 2017 British National Championship in trampolining, recalled an incident aged 15 where she wet herself as she landed from a jump during a competition

She recounted how the incident threw her off and the added shame of people around knowing what had happened to her.

Laura explained that it was common for gymnasts and trampolinists to have problems with their bladders.

She pointed out that they are often putting ‘up to 16 times their body weight’ through the trampoline.

Nearly two decades on from her own leaking incident, she is still crippled by the embarrassing memory.

She confessed she now goes to the bathroom five times per session and does not drink during training, despite advice from her nutritionist, in order to decrease the risk of a leak.

However, she said she counts herself lucky that the issue did not develop into a long-term issue in her adult years.

Izzy Songhurst, who also represented Team GB at the Trampoline competition in Tokyo last summer, developed incontinence issues aged 13 and now wears several pads under her leotard when she competes.

Izzy, who is a former European and world junior trampolining champion, said she can go through four pads in one training session.

‘If you’re having a bad day, you do worry about whether your pad is showing through the back of your leotard or if it’s coming out the side.’ she said.

She added the distracting issue causes her anxiety and can throw her performance when she is competing.

Incontinence is often viewed as a condition that impacts women after childbirth, or something that comes on with age, however, active women are much more at risk of developing it.

In athletes, the issue is not that the pelvic floor is too weak, but rather, that it is too tight and that training has damaged the way the pelvic floor’s muscles contract.

Female athletes are 177 per cent more at risk of developing pelvic floor issues and incontinence than sedentary women, and this is common to a wide range of sporting activities, including athletics, basketball and volleyball, cross country skiing and running.

FEMAIL has contacted British Gymnastics to inquire whether a plan was in place to help tackle incontinence issues encountered by female athletes.

In the world of Rugby, the head physiotherapist of the Welsh female team Jo Perkins explained she had discovered several of the players suffered from incontinence through a health questionnaire they filled during the firs covid-19 lockdown in 2020.

She said the players told her they suffered from abdominal pain, wet themselves or that using tampons was painful, which she identified as signs of pelvic floor dysfunction.

When she began to investigate the cause of the team’s stress incontinence, she found that the players were leaking more when they jumped than when they tackled.

The team began a partnership with the fem tech brand Elvie, which works with a smart kegel trainer that’s inserted in the vagina in order to strength the pelvic floor and helps monitor their progress.

FEMAIL contacted England Rugby, who said they have produced resources to tackle the issue.

This includes multidisciplinary strategies that focus on the players’ menstrual cycle and urinary incontinence.

They said the work on this area is ‘ongoing.’

Meanwhile Baz Moffat, a women’s health coach at The Well HQ, which specialises in pelvic floor education, said that the message that pelvic floor issues can be fixed with kegel exercises alone does not apply to athletes.

Baz, who is a former rower herself, said that for sportspeople, the issue is not so much that they have a weak pelvic floor, but that they do not know how to relax it for down training.

She said having a pelvic floor that’s too tight can also cause issues because this is a dynamic muscle that should move with each breath we take.

Women can develop urinary tract infections if their pelvic floor is too tight, she explained.

A 2021 study published in the International Urogynecology Journal on 319 gymnasts and cheerleaders found that two third of them suffered from incontinence.

And Moffat added that parents of gymnasts had told her their daughters had started to wet the bed because their core were overtight and overworked due to their intense training.

The issue is not new, with studies on athletic incontinence populating several Google Search pages, and in 1999, the LA Times was already reporting that little help existed to tackle the issue.

Across all sports and in wider society, incontinence is still regarded as a cause for embarrassment rather than a medical issue.

In 2005, the world cringed as France’s Olympics gymnastics champion Emilie Le Pennec suffered a leak at the World Championships.

Meanwhile at the London Olympics of 2012, Ecuadorian weightlifter Maria Alexandra Escobar Guerrero was also mocked for leaking while attempting a lift.

(c) Daily Mail.