Let’s talk about athlete’s bums for a bit. Not the part where they are muscular and well formed, but the part where they can become painful and uncomfortable. That’s right……haemorrhoids.
It’s estimated that around 50% of the population will have experienced problems with haemorrhoids by the age of 50. While they usually occur more often in obese individuals and pregnant women, athletes are definitely not immune to haemorrhoids. In fact, some forms of exercise can increase the risk of developing haemorrhoids, as well as making them more uncomfortable and irritating.
WHAT ARE HAEMORRHOIDS AND WHAT CAUSES THEM?
Haemorrhoids occur when the veins in and around your anal region become swollen and enlarged. They can be either internal or external, and often rupture, causing bright red blood to appear when you pass a bowel movement. When inflamed, haemorrhoids can be quite uncomfortable, often causing itchiness and pain.
While the exact cause of haemorrhoids isn’t known, the common consensus is that they are caused by excessive muscle strain when going to the toilet. Diarrhoea and constipation can often lead to haemorrhoids, as well as sitting too long on the toilet and straining to much when passing a bowel motion.
HOW DOES EXERCISE AFFECT HAEMORRHOIDS?
While regular exercise is usually associated with good health, it can also cause and irritate haemorrhoids in some cases.
Dehydration, which can be common among athletes who aren’t careful with their fluid intake, can lead to regular constipation. This, in turn, can increase the risk of developing haemorrhoids, as it causes additional straining when trying to pass a bowel motion.
Those who regularly lift weights as part of their training, especially heavy weights, are also at a greater risk of developing haemorrhoids. The regular straining when lifting weights isn’t just isolated to the muscle groups you are working on, there is always an involuntary strain on the internal organs and veins around the anus. This additional strain can increase the chances of haemorrhoids occurring.
Endurance athletes, especially cyclists and long distance runners, aren’t immune either. The repetitive motion and irritation around the perianal area which is associated with these types of exercise can inflame haemorrhoids, causing them to be more painful, sometimes resulting in bleeding. This continual irritation can also make the treatment of existing haemorrhoids a longer process than normal.
HOW TO TREAT AND REDUCE THE RISK OF HAEMORRHOIDS
Fortunately, most cases of inflamed haemorrhoids are self resolving. With enough rest and time, they will eventually go away by themselves. Ointments (usually containing cortisone to reduce inflammation and a numbing agent for pain) can be purchased from your local pharmacy to help make things more comfortable while haemorrhoids are healing, but there are a few things you can do to help the healing process and reduce the risk of developing haemorrhoids.
- Stay well hydrated. This helps to prevent constipation, and also helps to soften stools for easier bowel motions
- Try not to strain when going to the toilet….only go when you need to
- Make sure you have plenty of fibre and healthy fats in your diet, to help your body produce “healthy” stools
- Be sure to practice good breathing techniques when exercising, to reduce strain….especially when lifting heavy weights
- Wear comfortable clothing when exercising to try and reduce irritation of inflamed haemorrhoids
Unfortunately, some severe cases of haemorrhoids do need to be treated with surgery. If you experience haemorrhoids which don’t seem to heal or feel large and uncomfortable, it’s worth paying a visit to your regular General Practitioner.
While haemorrhoids are fairly common and can be rather uncomfortable, there is no reason for them to stop you doing the sport you love. By following the simple advice provided above, you can help to treat haemorrhoids and prevent them causing too many problems, in order to keep your butt free from irritation!