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Pelvic Floor Muscle Activity and Urinary Incontinence in WeightBearing Female Athletes vs. NonAthletes

Figuers, Carol Casper PT, EdD1; Boyle, Kim Laura DPT, MS2; Caprio, Kelly M. DPT3; Weidner, Alison C. MD4

Journal of Women's Health Physical Therapy:
Research Report

Objective:: The purpose of this study was to compare pelvic floor muscle activity and frequency of urinary incontinence (UI) in female athletes to that of female non‐athletes.

Study Design: The research design was quasiexperimental without random assignment of subjects.

Background:: Millions of women, including young athletes, report urinary incontinence. Previous research indicates that elite, weight‐being athletes report greater incidence of incontinence when compared with agedmatched female non‐athletes.

Methods and Measures:: Females aged 18 to 25 years were recruited into 2 groups based on weekly exercise time and athletic involvement; participants in a NCAA Division I sport (n=56), and female non‐athletes (n=75). Pelvic floor muscle activity, measured via surface electromyographic (EMG) electrodes, was recorded during the execution of a pelvic floor muscle contraction by each subject. Subjects also completed questionnaires regarding frequency of UI. Descriptive statistics were compiled for both groups, and data were analyzed with parametric and nonparametric tests.

Results:: There was no significant difference in pelvic floor muscle activity between groups. Athletes reported significantly greater frequency of experiencing UI with exercise than non‐athletes (p < .001). Athletes also reported significantly greater exercise time per week than non‐athletes (p < .001). Both groups reported a greater frequency of UI with greater exercise time.

Conclusions:: Although there was no significant difference in pelvic floor muscle activity between athletes and non‐athletes, the athletes did report a greater frequency of UI with exercise. Athletes also reported significantly greater exercise time. This suggests that pelvic floor muscle activity alone does not predict UI and that activity related to incontinence should also be considered. Future studies may focus on the role of increasing pelvic floor muscle strength to prevent urinary incontinence in female athletes.

Author Information

1Division of Physical Therapy, Department of Community and Family Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC

2Choice Physical Therapy, Bristol, NH

3NYU Hospital for Joint Diseases, New York, NY

4Division of Urogynecology, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC

© 2008 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.

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