Exercise is good for everyone, but you may wonder whether you should be running if you have pelvic organ prolapse.
Women suffering with prolapse want to stay healthy. Those who love running want to continue to enjoy their passion. But the answer to the question – can I run with pelvic organ prolapse – is usually no.
Let’s explore prolapse and its impact on exercise habits, including running.
Exercise and Pelvic Health
There are a number of studies that have looked at exercise and pelvic health. Many of us experience urinary incontinence, the involuntary leakage of urine that affects women of all ages.1 This could be a result of weakness of the pelvic floor muscles, brought on by factors such as childbirth.
If you experience incontinence, you likely find it’s more common during high-impact or cardio exercises. One study found that exercising women have three times the risk of experiencing urinary incontinence.2
When incontinence becomes prolapse, your decisions about exercise may change, but once again it isn’t a simple yes or no answer for every woman. It does not mean women shouldn’t exercise.
The same study concluded “the threshold for optimal or negative effects on the pelvic floor almost certainly differs from person to person.” There wasn’t enough evidence in this study to make firm conclusions about the role of strenuous physical activity in the incidence of pelvic floor disorders, highlighting the need for more research. 2
Prolapse and Exercise
Women who suspect prolapse experience a number of symptoms. Incontinence may be one of them, because it can be difficult to empty your bladder. You may also experience heaviness, pelvic pressure and bulging. It’s common to experience these towards the end of the day, because gravity plays a role. Because of that, running may not be a good idea if you suspect you have a prolapse. You may also want to avoid strenuous activities like jumping, step aerobics and exercise involving heavy lifting.
One study found that women who perform high-impact activities might be at greater risk of pelvic floor dysfunction than those participating in low-impact exercise. Researchers compared running to another high-impact exercise regimen (CrossFit®-brand training), and concluded that women who participate in running have a higher prevalence of prolapse than women who participate in cross-fit.3
So what does that mean for those who love running?
Pelvic floor physiotherapist Mary O’Dwyer encourages women to exercise, but warns that incontinence is an early signal about your pelvic floor health. Running may not be the ideal choice of exercise in the short term. She encourages women to seek out exercise to improve their pelvic floor. By improving their pelvic floor support, running may eventually become an option. 4
Other Exercises For Those with Prolapse
Don’t despair. The Australian non profit women’s health organization Jean Hailes for Women’s Health has some guidance for women who want to remain active. The first is that daily exercise is important.
Here are some suggestions:
- Use lighter weights.
- Opt for core strengthening on an exercise ball.
- Choose cardiovascular exercise such as walking, swimming or bike riding rather than running, jumping or high-impact aerobics.5
The key is to avoid straining and worsening the prolapse.
Another option is yoga, which will help strengthen your core (your abs and low back) and strengthen your pelvic floor, too. Before runners scoff at the thought of doing yoga instead of a marathon, remember that it’s good for physical, mental, and emotional health. Yoga will help with relaxation, enabling your body to better respond to pain and stress.
What’s important to note is that there are exercise options for women. And as physiotherapist Mary O’Dwyer reminds us, running may once again become an option.
Seek Medical Advice
Before making decisions about whether or not to run, seek medical advice. Get help even if you suspect a prolapse but aren’t sure. Finding a qualified physician nearby is the first step. After all, there are some common treatments that can be effective, including physical therapy involving pelvic floor muscle exercises. Don’t suffer in silence.
In no time, you could be on the road again, or enjoying a new form of physical activity until you can run again.