Effect of pelvic floor symptoms on women's participation in exercise: A mixed-methods systematic review with meta-analysis

Jodie Dakic, Jean Hay-Smith, Jill Cook, Marlena Calo, Kuan-Yin Lin, Helena Frawley

Research output: Contribution to journalReview ArticleResearchpeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: To (1) review the effect of pelvic floor (PF) symptoms (urinary incontinence [UI], pelvic organ prolapse, and anal incontinence) on exercise participation in women, and (2) explore PF symptoms as a barrier to exercising. DESIGN: Mixed-methods systematic review with meta-analysis. LITERATURE SEARCH: Eight databases were systematically searched up to September 2020. STUDY SELECTION CRITERIA: We included full-text, peer-reviewed observational, experimental, or qualitative studies in adult, community-dwelling women with PF symptoms. Outcomes included the participant-reported effect on exercise or the perception of PF symptoms as an exercise barrier. Study quality was assessed using a modified version of the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool. DATA SYNTHESIS: Meta-analysis was performed where possible. Deductive and inductive content analysis was used to synthesize qualitative data. The Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) framework and the GRADE-Confidence in the Evidence from Reviews of Qualitative research (CERQual) guided interpretation of the certainty of evidence. RESULTS: Thirty-three studies were included. In 47% (95% confidence interval [CI]: 37%, 56%; I2 = 98.6%) of women with past, current, or fear of PF symptoms, UI symptoms adversely affected exercise participation (21 studies, n = 14 836 women). Thirty-nine percent (95% CI: 22%, 57%; I2 = 93.0%; 6 studies, n = 426) reported a moderate or great effect on exercise. Pelvic organ prolapse affected exercise for 28% of women (95% CI: 24%, 33%; I2 = 0.0%; 2 studies, n = 406). There were no quantitative studies of anal incontinence. CONCLUSION: For 1 in 2 women, UI symptoms negatively affect exercise participation. Half of women with UI reported either stopping or modifying exercise due to their symptoms. Limited data on pelvic organ prolapse also demonstrated adverse exercise effect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)345-361
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021


  • Anal incontinence
  • Exercise participation
  • Pelvic organ prolapse
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Women's health

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