Interstitial Cystitis, Urinary Incontinence

Why Jogging May Not Be Ideal For Bladder Health

When I first had interstitial cystitis (IC), I started looking at diet and lifestyle changes that might help me get better. Exercise is generally considered to be health promoting, so I decided to include it in my routine. I knew quite a few people who were jogging regularly and decided to give it a go myself, since it required no special equipment or gym membership.

However, each time I did go for a run I would get a massive flare of my IC symptoms, as well as the urge to run to the toilet.

I eventually abandoned jogging (mainly because I was chronically fatigued and couldn’t do much at all). I only recently came across an explanation as to why jogging may not be so great for the bladder and I thought I’d share it with you!

Jogging and the Pelvic Floor

Years ago, Dr Gillespie, who was an urologist specializing in bladder health, measured the nerve-conduction to the pelvic nerves of several women. She noticed that in women who took part in prolonged jogging the nerve transmission was delayed [1].

Her explanation for this phenomenon was that jogging is damaging to the female pelvic floor. Whilst men have quite a narrow space between their pubic bone and rectum (because they don’t give birth), females have a wide space to allow for stretching during child-birth.

Therefore, when men jog, the contents of the abdomen don’t have a lot of space to bounce against and up-down motion of the pelvic floor is restricted. For females, however, there is much more up-and-down motion of the pelvic floor, which may be similar to continuous straining during childbirth [1]. This in turn may damage the nerves that send signals to the pelvic floor musculature (pudendal nerves) [2].

Nerve Transmission and Bladder Health

Generally, jogging has been shown to be able to cause neuropathy, i.e. injuries to nerve tissues [3].

The bladder is connected through nerves to the brain via the spine. Through these nerves, the bladder sends signals to the brain telling it that it is full and needs to empty, the brain then sends signals to the bladder to relax when we’re ready to go and signals are sent back again when the bladder is empty to close the bladder sphincter.

Other nerves control blood flow, pressure and pain.

The pudendal nerves originate from the spine and play a role in the opening and closing of the external bladder sphincter. Damage to pudendal nerves may play a role in urinary stress incontinence [4].

Any damage to these nerves can affect bladder health, potentially playing a role in incontinence and incomplete voiding – a risk factor for urinary tract infections.

Jogging can therefore be a risk factor, plus I’d also recommend looking at the spine for possible nerve impingement.

Other Potential Negative Effects of Jogging

Besides the possibility of affecting the pelvic nerves, jogging could also aggravate a bladder conditions such as IC.

For example, stress is a common trigger for IC flares, mainly because it can activate mast cells. Endurance exercise, such as prolonged jogging, significantly raises the main stress hormone cortisol [5].

Moreover, prolonged bouts of strenuous exercise such as jogging has been shown to reduce immunity [6]. Reduced immunity increases the chance of bladder infections and our ability to deal with existing chronic infections. Regular moderate exercise, however, is associated with a reduced rate of infections.

Lastly, the impact of jogging on an inflamed bladder wall is quite strong and can be rather aggravating in my experience – after all, you wouldn’t constantly want to hit a wound on your skin!

So there you have it – as great as jogging may be for a lot of people, I don’t think it’s the best form of exercise for women with bladder problems. I will explore better forms of exercise in the next post, so stay tuned!

What is your experience with jogging and bladder health? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. Gillespie, Larrian You Don’t Have to Live With Cystitis (New York: Avon Health, 1996), p. 41-42
  2. Sultan, A. H., Kamm, M. A. and Hudson, C. N. (1994), Pudendal nerve damage during labour: prospective study before and after childbirth*. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 101: 22–28.
  3. Massey, EW et al Neuropathy in joggers. Am J Sports Med. 1978 Jul-Aug;6(4):209-11.
  4. Kamo, I. et al The role of bladder-to-urethral reflexes in urinary continence mechanisms in rats Physiology Volume 287 Issue 3 September 2004, Pages F434-F441
  5. Skoluda, N. et al Elevated hair cortisol concentrations in endurance athletes Psychoneuroendocrinology May 2012 Volume 37, Issue 5, Pages 611–617
  6. Michael Gleeson Immune function in sport and exercise Physiology Volume 103Issue 2 August 2007 Pages 693-699

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