Stress Incontinence

Find out more about the most common type of incontinence among women.

What is Stress Incontinence?
Stress Incontinence occurs when the pelvic floor muscle has lost the strength to ‘hold on’ under pressure. Leaks are typically associated with sneezing, laughing, coughing, lifting heavy weights and many forms of exercise, all of which place downward pressure, or ‘stress’ on the bladder and controlling muscles. 

Image Source:

Image Source: 


As you can see in these diagrams, the pelvic floor muscle plays a crucial role in continence. The bladder stores urine and then contracts to push it out through the urethra (the tube that drains urine from the bladder to outside the body). The sphincter, at the neck of the bladder, remains ‘clenched’ to hold urine in, and when surrounding nerves recognise that the bladder is full, messages are sent to the brain to contract the bladder and relax the sphincter, so that urine can be expelled. The sphincter, however, is really just a valve. The pelvic floor muscle, which surrounds the urethra, allows you to ‘hold on’. So, it’s perhaps not surprising to appreciate that if the muscle is weak, control can be compromised.

You can read more about the pelvic floor muscle here  on the Continence Foundation website.

The amount of urine lost can vary significantly. For some women, just a few drops are ‘squeezed’ out under this pressure. For others, it can trigger the entire loss of a full bladder.


Other than an inability to hold urine under pressure, other signs of a weakened pelvic floor muscle can include:

  • An inability to hold back flatulence (wind)
  • Poor bowel control
  • Reduced vaginal sensation during sex
  • Difficulty keeping a tampon in place
  • A feeling of ‘heaviness’ in the vagina, which could indicate a prolapse 


In women, the most common cause of pelvic floorweakening is pregnancy, childbirth and menopause.

The additional weight during pregnancy places strain on the pelvic floor, and a vaginal birth can stretch and damage the tissue.

The reduction of oestrogen (a female hormone) post menopause can cause the urethra lining to thin, which then requires more strength to ‘hold on’.

Other causes include:

  • Chronic coughing, usually associated with smoking
  • Obesity, as the additional weight, like pregnancy, adds a significant strain to the muscle
  • Persistent constipation which causes straining, which in turn can damage the pelvic floor
  • Some forms of pelvic surgery that involve cutting the muscle



The good news is that with exercise and the adoption of good bladder habits continence can be improved and, in many cases, even wholly restored.

TENA’s Exercise Zone has instructional videos for Basic, Intermediate and Master Classes to step you through the correct way to exercise your pelvic floor muscle to restore strength.

Good bladder habits include:

  • Drinking plenty of water
    • 1.5 – 2 litres (6 to 8 cups) across the day to ensure constant hydration

    • Limit fizzy drinks (especially those with artificial sweeteners), caffeine and alcohol which can all irritate the bladder

    • Eat well
      • A healthy diet, high in fibre and low in sugar will help avoid constipation
      • Maintain a healthy body weight (here’s a BMI Calculator)
      • Avoid foods and drinks that may irritate the bladder.
      • Exercise
        • There is no downside to physical activity; it helps keep weight off, the bowel regular and the endorphins (feel-good hormones) flowing 
      • Good toilet habits
        • Urinate only when the bladder is full
        • Open bowels when the urge is felt – don’t keep putting it off as it can lead to constipation 

In the meantime…

While you’re getting your pelvic floor muscle back in shape, managing incontinence may be easier than you think. TENA has a range of products, from liners through to pants, that are specifically designed to manage urine leakage discreetly.

If you’re not sure which product is right for you, head over to the TENA Product Finder will step you through your condition and suggest product choices. You can then request a FREE sample which will be posted out to you in discreet, unbranded packaging.



Asaleo Care makes no warranties or representations regarding the completeness or accuracy of the information. This information should be used only as a guide and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional, medical or other health professional advice.