Pessaries and the Pelvic Floor Muscles

What happens to pelvic floor muscle activation in women who have prolapse and a pessary in place? Kari Bo, an extraordinary contributor to the field of pelvic health, and colleagues in Norway investigated this question. Twenty two women (who acted as their own controls) were measured for vaginal resting pressure and maximal voluntary pelvic muscle contraction with and without a ring pessary in place.The aim of the investigation was to determine if the pelvic floor muscles could improve in activation if the prolapse was repositioned. (The authors take the reader through prior research examples to build this clinical question and theory.) Conclusions of this research indicate that having a pessary in place improved the vaginal resting pressure (VRP) but did not create a statistically significant difference in maximal voluntary contraction (MVC).

For this study, 22 women with grade II-IV prolapse (according to POP-Q) who were able to demonstrate a voluntary pelvic muscle contraction were included. Excluded were women who could not tolerate a ring pessary, those who were breastfeeding or pregnant, women with neurological or musculoskeletal disease that could interfere with ability to contract, and cases in which the prolapse was so severe that measurement with the catheter was prohibited. Maximal contractions and an endurance contraction were measured in supine. No significant difference was noted in MVC or in endurance. A higher vaginal resting pressure, however, was recorded. The authors discuss several theories to explain the increase in resting pressure, but do not provide a conclusion as to the reason for this change. Is there a length change in puborectalis that optimizes the length/tension curve, for example?


Childbirth is one of the leading causes of supportive changes in the pelvic floor, yet women have varied levels of prolapse, and not all prolapses create symptoms or functional limitations. Experienced pelvic rehabilitation therapists will likely concur that there are patients who present with a seemingly severe level of prolapse who have minimal symptoms, and vice versa. While degree of prolapse and levator plate descent has been shown to improve in response to pelvic muscle rehabilitation, women also have reported improved symptoms in the absence of significant objective changes to the level of prolapse. One clinical message that this study adds to the literature is the conclusion that a therapist may not need to have a patient remove her pessary in order to accurately test the muscles. Keeping in mind that the patients were tested in a supine position, there may be clinical relevance for assessing a patient in other positions with and without a pessary in place.

If you enjoy "nerding out" and discussing the potential clinical implications that this type of clinical research provides, you can find more discussions about pessaries in our Pelvic Floor 2B course, next happening in Chicago area in July. This course will sell out, so get your seats soon!

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