Physical examination techniques for the assessment of pelvic floor myofascial pain: a systematic review

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2018 Nov;219(5):497.e1-497.e13. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2018.06.014. Epub 2018 Jun 28.


Background: Myofascial pain is characterized by the presence of trigger points, tenderness to palpation, and local or referred pain, and commonly involves the pelvic floor muscles in men and women. Pelvic floor myofascial pain in the absence of local or referred pain has also been observed in patients with lower urinary tract symptoms, and we have found that many patients report an improvement in these symptoms after receiving myofascial-targeted pelvic floor physical therapy.

Objective: We sought to systematically review the literature for examination techniques used to assess pelvic floor myofascial pain in women.

Study design: We performed a systematic literature search using strategies for the concepts of pelvic floor disorders, myofascial pain, and diagnosis in Ovid MEDLINE 1946-, Embase 1947-, Scopus 1960-, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects, and Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Articles were screened by 3 authors and included if they contained a description of a pelvic myofascial physical examination.

Results: In all, 55 studies met our inclusion criteria. Overall, examination components varied significantly among the included studies and were frequently undefined. A consensus examination guideline was developed based on the available data and includes use of a single digit (62%, 34/55) to perform transvaginal palpation (75%, 41/55) of the levator ani (87%, 48/55) and obturator internus (45%, 25/55) muscles with a patient-reported scale to assess the level of pain to palpation (51%, 28/55).

Conclusion: Physical examination methods to evaluate pelvic musculature for presence of myofascial pain varied significantly and were often undefined. Given the known role of pelvic floor myofascial pain in chronic pelvic pain and link between pelvic floor myofascial pain and lower urinary tract symptoms, physicians should be trained to evaluate for pelvic floor myofascial pain as part of their physical examination in patients presenting with these symptoms. Therefore, the development and standardization of a reliable and reproducible examination is needed.

Keywords: lower urinary tract symptoms; pelvic floor myofascial pain; physical examination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Myofascial Pain Syndromes / diagnosis
  • Myofascial Pain Syndromes / physiopathology*
  • Pain Measurement / methods*
  • Palpation / methods
  • Pelvic Floor / physiopathology*
  • Physical Examination / methods*
  • Urologic Diseases / diagnosis
  • Urologic Diseases / physiopathology