Conservative treatment of stress urinary incontinence in women: a systematic review of randomized clinical trials

Br J Urol. 1998 Aug;82(2):181-91. doi: 10.1046/j.1464-410x.1998.00730.x.


Objective: To assess the efficacy of physical therapies for first-line use in the treatment and prevention of stress urinary incontinence (SUI) in women, using a systematic review of randomized clinical trials (RCTs).

Materials and methods: A computer-aided and manual search for published RCTs investigating treatment and prevention of SUI using physical therapies, e.g. pelvic floor muscle (PFM) exercises, with or without other treatment modalities, were carried out. The methodological quality of the included trials was assessed using criteria based on generally accepted principles of interventional research.

Results: Twenty-four RCTs (22 treatment and two prevention) were identified; the methodological quality of the studies included was moderate and 11 RCTs were of sufficient quality to be included in further analysis. Based on levels-of-evidence criteria, there is strong evidence to suggest that PFM exercises are effective in reducing the symptoms of SUI. There is limited evidence for the efficacy of high-intensity vs a low-intensity regimen of PFM exercises. Despite significant effects of biofeedback after testing as an adjunct to PFM exercises, there is no evidence that PFM exercises with biofeedback are more effective than PFM exercises alone. There is little consistency (of stimulation types and parameters) in the studies of electrical stimulation, but when the results are combined there is strong evidence to suggest that electrostimulation is superior to sham electrostimulation, and limited evidence that there is no difference between electrostimulation and other physical therapies. In the prevention of SUI the efficacy of PFM exercises, with or without other adjuncts, is uncertain.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biofeedback, Psychology
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / methods
  • Exercise Therapy / instrumentation
  • Exercise Therapy / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pelvic Floor
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / instrumentation
  • Physical Therapy Modalities / methods*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Urinary Incontinence, Stress / rehabilitation*