Objectives: It is unknown how many women presenting for primary care can appropriately contract their pelvic floor muscle (PFM) or whether this ability differs between women with or without pelvic floor disorders. We sought to describe the proportion of women who initially incorrectly contract the PFM and how many can learn after basic instruction.
Methods: This cross-sectional study enrolled 779 women presenting to community-based primary care practices. During PFM assessment, research nurses recorded whether women could correctly contract their PFM after a brief verbal cue. We defined pelvic organ prolapse (POP) as prolapse to or beyond the hymen and stress urinary incontinence (SUI) as a score of greater than equal 3 on the Incontinence Severity Index.
Results: Pelvic floor muscle contraction was done correctly on first attempt in 85.5%, 83.4%, 68.6%, and 85.8% of women with POP, SUI, both POP and SUI, and neither POP nor SUI, respectively (P=0.01 for difference between POP and SUI versus neither POP nor SUI). Of 120 women who initially incorrectly contracted the PFM, 94 women (78%) learned after brief instruction. Women with POP were less likely to learn than women with neither POP nor SUI (54.3% vs 85.7%, P=0.001). Increasing vaginal delivery and decreasing caffeine intake (but not age or other demographic factors) were associated with incorrect PFM contraction; only decreased caffeine intake remained significant on multivariable analysis.
Conclusions: Most women with no or mild pelvic floor disorders can correctly contract their PFM after a simple verbal cue, suggesting that population-based prevention interventions can be initiated without clinical confirmation of correct PFM technique.