Winter Colds and Wet Pants

A Woman standing under an umbrella and sneezing into a tissue.

Winter is well and truly upon us. It’s been super cold and wet this last week. Frosty mornings and grey, rainy days. Brrr!

Along with the winter weather comes the inevitable cold and flu season. Coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose isn’t fun for anyone. But for some, it brings the added worry of wet pants. I have lost count of how many women I see over winter because their constant coughing makes them leak urine.

Urine leakage with coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose is called stress urinary incontinence (SUI). The “stress” part does not refer to emotional stress, but rather a physical stress. This physical stress or strain increases the pressure in the abdominal cavity and pushes down on the bladder. SUI can also occur with exercise, lifting, pushing and pulling.

Those with SUI often complain they have a “weak bladder”. This is not quite accurate. It is actually the muscles and other tissues supporting the bladder and urethra that are generally weak, not the bladder itself. When any physical strain increases the pressure in the abdominal cavity, the supporting muscles and tissues should work to support the bladder and hold the urethra shut. With SUI, these supporting structures fail. This causes the urethra to open and urine leaks out.

It might be a small drop, wet right through your clothes, or anything in between. It is all still SUI.

If this sounds like you – you’re not alone. Figures show a third of women who have ever had a baby suffer urinary incontinence. Rates increase with ageing. Unfortunately women are much more likely to suffer urinary incontinence than men. It’s not hard to see why when you look at the common risk factors:

  • Pregnancy
  • Childbirth – especially vaginal delivery and use or forceps • Obesity
  • Ageing

The good news is SUI can be treated!

There is excellent evidence that pelvic floor muscle training can help. Women who do regular pelvic floor muscle training are 17 times more likely to report cure or improvement in their urinary incontinence than women who don’t seek treatment. There is also excellent evidence that women who do pelvic floor training under regular supervision do better.

A Women’s Health Physio can make sure you are doing pelvic floor muscle exercises properly. They can also teach you ‘the knack’. ‘The knack’ is the ability to co-ordinate a pelvic floor muscle contraction with whatever ‘stress’ usually causes you to leak. For example, timing a pelvic floor contraction with a cough. After all, it’s no good being able to contract those muscles if they can’t work quickly when we really need them!

Pelvic floor muscle training seems like a bit of a chore to some people. But consider the alternatives...

  • Crossing your legs every time you sneeze
  • An embarrassing wet patch on your pants
  • Wearing adult nappies (and having to be seen buying them)


Don’t let this winter leave you wet and miserable, when you can do something to help yourself. Waiting out the end of winter doesn’t bring much relief for some people either. Spring sees the onset of hay-fever and the sneezes. That’s a long time to keep your legs crossed!

If these problems sound familiar then contact us at Life Cycle Physiotherapy for advice, or book in for a pelvic floor assessment online now!

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