Objective: To assess the efficacy of physical therapies for first-line use in the treatment of urge urinary incontinence (UUI) in women, using a systematic review of randomized clinical trials (RCTs).
Materials and methods: A computer-aided and manual search was carried out for RCTs published between 1980 and 1999 investigating the treatment of UUI defined by the keywords 'physical therapies', e.g. bladder (re)training (including 'behavioural' treatment), pelvic floor muscle (PFM) exercises, with or without biofeedback and/or electrical stimulation. The methodological quality of the included trials was assessed using methodological criteria, based on generally accepted principles of interventional research.
Results: Fifteen RCTs were identified; the methodological quality of the studies was moderate, with a median (range) score of 6 (3-8.5) (maximum possible 10). Eight RCTs were considered of sufficient quality, i.e. an internal validity score of >/= 5.5 points on a scale of 0-10, and were included in a further analysis. Based on levels-of-evidence criteria, there is weak evidence to suggest that bladder (re)training is more effective than no treatment (controls), and that bladder (re)training is better than drug therapy. Stimulation types and parameters in the studies of electrical stimulation were heterogeneous. There is insufficient evidence that electrical stimulation is more effective than sham electrical simulation. To date there are too few studies to evaluate effects of PFM exercise with or without biofeedback, and of toilet training for women with UUI.
Conclusion: Although almost all studies included reported positive results in favour of physical therapies for the treatment of UUI, more research of high methodological quality is required to evaluate the effects of each method in the range of physical therapies.