Almost Half of Young Female Athletes May Have Incontinence — Here's What to Know Before Sending Your Teen to their Sports Activities

The high school years are when school work, schedules, and sports all intensify for your teen. They might have practices, games, or meets every day of the week during their sports season. All that high-intensity activity is excellent exercise; there’s no doubt about that. Also, recent research has been published stating that young people who are a part of team sports have better social and emotional health, which can include lower percentages of anxiety and depression, than those who do not participate in those activities. 

However, there is one consequence of participating in sports like basketball, track and field, tennis, gymnastics, and volleyball that parents of high schoolers and young college athletes may not be aware of: The intensity of the activity can lead to incontinence and bladder accidents for teen girls in particular. 

We spoke with an expert to find out exactly why this may happen, how to prepare your teen for it, and some treatment options you have for better urinary health.

How do sports correlate with bladder leaks? 

There is a statistical link between certain high-impact sports and bladder leaks: A 2021 study found that about 48.58 percent of young female athletes under 19 experience urine leakage during their sports. That’s right, that’s almost half. 

Why might this occur? Sports that contain a lot of running, jumping, and bouncing are causing extra pressure on the pelvic floor muscles, which hold all of the internal organs that control your bladder and bowels in place, explains Dr. Barbara Frank, Harvard Medical School-affiliated OB/GYN and Attn: Grace Medical Advisor. Frank likens the pelvic floor to a hammock, and says that increased bouncing on that ‘hammock’ (think gymnastics, cheerleading, volleyball, and any sport where there’s a ton of jumping and running) can weaken the muscles of the pelvic floor. 

Any kid who has chronic constipation might also have lower pelvic floor strength because all the pushing to go to the bathroom might also add to pressure on the pelvic floor, says Frank. There are ways to strengthen those muscles, just like your teen would with any muscle they’re using a lot in their sports activities. 

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