Can pelvic floor muscle training during the peripartum period prevent or cure urinary incontinence? A systematic review was completed by two pioneering pelvic rehabilitation researchers, Kari Bo, and Siv Morkved, physiotherapists who are experts in pelvic floor therapy. The authors included twenty-two randomized, controlled trials (RCTs) or quasi experimental design studies in the field of pelvic floor muscle training during the peripartum period. Interventions included in the eligible studies included exercise and biofeedback, vaginal cones, or electrical stimulation. As is reported among many systematic reviews, the variability among study populations, criteria, and outcomes measures was wide, however, the authors did conclude that pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT) during and after pregnancy can prevent and treat urinary incontinence (UI). This training should be supervised, the contractions instructed should be close to maximum effort, and at least eight weeks duration is recommended based on the review.
Research issues cited as having potential effects on the research reporting include the lack of outcomes data measuring adherence to the instructed exercise programs. Also brought into question is the practice of treating patients with pelvic floor dysfunction once per week, which may effectively provide a suboptimal dose of care if the effect of treatment is to hypertrophy muscles and provide a plan of care based on strength measures. In many studies, the control group was also completing pelvic muscle exercises as part of "usual care" and creating difficulty in assessing differences among treatment and non-treatment groups. Another question posed by the authors is that if physiotherapists, nurses, and physicians are instructing in exercises, is the instruction equivalent based on training? To improve this potential factor, Bo & Morkved suggest that fitness instructors and coaches should be trained in effective PFMT approaches.
The take home point of this study is that PFMT should be a routine part of women's exercise programs,especially during the peripartum period. Bo & Morkved also point out that UI is inhibitory to exercise participation, and should be considered when designing postpartum exercise guidelines. To learn more about postpartum challenges to recovery of pelvic health and function, join faculty member Jenni Gabelsberg in California this winter for the Care of the Postpartum Patient. The next opportunity to take this course is in January in Santa Barbara!