Can postpartum pelvic floor muscle training reduce urinary and anal incontinence?: An assessor-blinded randomized controlled trial

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2020 Mar;222(3):247.e1-247.e8. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2019.09.011. Epub 2019 Sep 14.


Background: Pelvic floor dysfunction, including urinary and anal incontinence, is a common postpartum complaint and likely to reduce quality of life.

Objective: To study the effects of individualized physical therapist-guided pelvic floor muscle training in the early postpartum period on urinary and anal incontinence and related bother, as well as pelvic floor muscle strength and endurance.

Materials and methods: This was an assessor-blinded, parallel-group, randomized controlled trial evaluating effects of pelvic floor muscle training by a physical therapist on the rate of urinary and/or anal leakage (primary outcomes); related bother and muscle strength and endurance in the pelvic floor were secondary outcomes. Between 2016 and 2017, primiparous women giving birth at Landspitali University Hospital in Reykjavik, Iceland, were screened for eligibilty 6-10 weeks after childbirth. Of those identified as urinary incontinent, 95 were invited to participate, of whom 84 agreed. The intervention, starting at ∼9 weeks postpartum consisted of 12 weekly sessions with a physical therapist, after which the main outcomes were assessed (endpoint, ∼6 months postpartum). Additional follow-up was conducted at ∼12 months postpartum. The control group received no instructions after the initial assessment. The Fisher exact test was used to test differences in the proportion of women with urinary and anal incontinence between the intervention and control groups, and independent-sample t tests were used for mean differences in muscle strength and endurance. Significance levels were set as α = 0.05.

Results: A total of 41 and 43 women were randomized to the intervention and control groups, respectively. Three participants and 1 participant withdrew from these respective groups. Measurement variables and main delivery outcomes were not different at recruitment. At the endpoint, urinary incontinence was less frequent in the intervention group, with 21 participants (57%) still symptomatic, compared to 31 controls (82%) (P = .03), as was bladder-related bother with 10 participants (27%) in the intervention vs 23 (60%) in the control group (P = .005). Anal incontinence was not influenced by pelvic floor muscle training (P = .33), nor was bowel-related bother (P = .82). The mean differences between groups in measured pelvic floor muscle strength changes at endpoint was 5 hPa (95% confidence interval, 2-8; P = .003), and for pelvic floor muscle endurance changes, 50 hPa/s (95% confidence interval, 23-77; P = .001), both in favor of the intervention group. The mean between-group differences for anal sphincter strength changes was 10 hPa (95% confidence interval, 2-18; P = .01) and for anal sphincter endurance changes 95 hPa/s (95% confidence interval, 16-173; P = .02), both in favor of the intervention. At the follow-up visit 12 months postpartum, no differences were observed between the groups regarding rates of urinary and anal incontinence and related bother. Pelvic floor- and anal muscle strength and endurance favoring the intervention group were maintained.

Conclusion: Postpartum pelvic floor mucle training decreased the rate of urinary incontinence and related bother 6 months postpartum and increased muscle strength and endurance.

Trial registration: NCT02682212.

Keywords: anal incontinence; anal sphincter muscles; pelvic floor muscle training; pelvic floor muscles; postpartum; primiparity; quality of life; short-term; urinary incontinence.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Fecal Incontinence / physiopathology
  • Fecal Incontinence / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle Strength / physiology
  • Pelvic Floor / physiopathology*
  • Postpartum Period / physiology*
  • Pregnancy
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Urinary Incontinence / physiopathology
  • Urinary Incontinence / prevention & control*

Associated data