Among teens and young women, incontinence problems are typically related to sports injuries, says Pamela Moalli, MD, a professor of urogynaecology at the University of Pittsburgh Magee-Womens Research Institute. “About 20% of college athletes report leakage of urine during sports activities,” she tells WebMD.
“Women in high-impact sports are at highest risk — parachuters, gymnasts, runners,” says Moalli. “In these sports, you’re hitting the ground hard, which can damage pelvic muscles and connective tissue that support the bladder.”
Many young women have pre-existing biological reasons putting them at higher risk, says Niall Galloway, MD, FRCS, professor of urology and director of the Emory Continence Center at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.
“It runs in families,” he tells WebMD. “Just as bad eyesight runs in families, so can weak pelvic muscles. It’s not that they’ve been overdoing it with exercise. It’s just that they’ve reached the tolerance of their own tissues.”
For these girls and women, simply wearing a tampon or pessary — a device similar to a diaphragm — during exercise is a good solution, says Galloway. “They just need a little something to support those pelvic tissues, something to put pressure on the urethra.”