Background: Pelvic floor muscle training is the most commonly recommended physical therapy treatment for women with stress leakage of urine. It is also used in the treatment of women with mixed incontinence, and less commonly for urge incontinence. Adjuncts, such as biofeedback or electrical stimulation, are also commonly used with pelvic floor muscle training. The content of pelvic floor muscle training programmes is highly variable.
Objectives: To determine the effects of pelvic floor muscle training for women with symptoms or urodynamic diagnoses of stress, urge and mixed incontinence, in comparison to no treatment or other treatment options.
Search strategy: Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Incontinence Group trials register (May 2000), Medline (1980 to 1998), Embase (1980 to 1998), the database of the Dutch National Institute of Allied Health Professions (to 1998), the database of the Cochrane Rehabilitation and Related Therapies Field (to 1998), Physiotherapy Index (to 1998) and the reference lists of relevant articles. We handsearched the proceedings of the International Continence Society (1980 to 2000). We contacted investigators in the field to locate studies. Date of the most recent searches: May 2000.
Selection criteria: Randomised trials in women with symptoms or urodynamic diagnoses of stress, urge or mixed incontinence that included pelvic floor muscle training in at least one arm of the trial.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers assessed all trials for inclusion/exclusion and methodological quality. Data were extracted by the lead reviewer onto a standard form and cross checked by another. Disagreements were resolved by discussion. Data were processed as described in the Cochrane Handbook. Sensitivity analysis on the basis of diagnosis was planned and undertaken where appropriate.
Main results: Forty-three trials met the inclusion criteria. The primary or only reference for 15 of these was a conference abstract. The pelvic floor muscle training programs, and comparison interventions, varied markedly. Outcome measures differed between trials, and methods of data reporting varied, making the data difficult to combine. Many of the trials were small. Allocation concealment was adequate in five trials, and nine trials used assessors masked to group allocation. Thirteen trials reported that there were no losses to follow up, seven trials had dropout rates of less than 10%, but in the remaining trials the proportion of dropouts ranged from 12% to 41%. Pelvic floor muscle training was better than no treatment or placebo treatments for women with stress or mixed incontinence. 'Intensive' appeared to be better than 'standard' pelvic floor muscle training. PFMT may be more effective than some types of electrical stimulation but there were problems in combining the data from these trials. There is insufficient evidence to determine if pelvic floor muscle training is better or worse than other treatments. The effect of adding pelvic floor muscle training to other treatments (e.g. electrical stimulation, behavioural training) is not clear due to the limited amount of evidence available. Evidence of the effect of adding other adjunctive treatments to PFMT (e.g. vaginal cones, intravaginal resistance) is equally limited. The effectiveness of biofeedback assisted PFMT is not clear, but on the basis of the evidence available there did not appear to be any benefit over PFMT alone at post treatment assessment. Long-term outcomes of pelvic floor muscle training are unclear. Side effects of pelvic floor muscle training were uncommon and reversible. A number of the formal comparisons should be viewed with caution due to statistical heterogeneity, lack of statistical independence, and the possibility of spurious confidence intervals in some instances.
Reviewer's conclusions: Pelvic floor muscle training appeared to be an effective treatment for adult women with stress or mixed incontinence. Pelvic floor muscle training was better than no treatment or placebo treatments. The limitations of the evidence available mean that is difficult to judge if pelvic floor muscle training was better or worse than other treatments. Most trials to date have studied the effect of treatment in younger, premenopausal women. The role of pelvic floor muscle training for women with urge incontinence alone remains unclear. Many of the trials were small with poor reporting of allocation concealment and masking of outcome assessors. In addition there was a lack of consistency in the choice and reporting of outcome measures that made data difficult to combine. Methodological problems limit the confidence that can be placed in the findings of the review. Further, large, high quality trials are necessary.