Is Pelvic-Floor Muscle Training a Physical Therapy or a Behavioral Therapy? A Call to Name and Report the Physical, Cognitive, and Behavioral Elements

Helena Catherine Frawley, Sarah G. Dean, Susan C. Slade, E. Jean C. Hay-Smith

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23 Citations (Scopus)


This perspective article explores whether pelvic-floor muscle training (PFMT) for the management of female urinary incontinence and prolapse is a physical therapy or a behavioral therapy. The primary aim is to demonstrate that it is both. A secondary aim is to show that the plethora of terms used for PFMT is potentially confusing and that current terminology inadequately represents the full intent, content, and delivery of this complex intervention. While physical therapists may be familiar with exercise terms, the details are often incompletely reported; furthermore, physical therapists are less familiar with the terminology used in accurately representing cognitive and behavioral therapy interventions, which results in these elements being even less well reported. Thus, an additional aim is to provide greater clarity in the terminology used in the reporting of PFMT interventions, specifically, descriptions of the exercise and behavioral elements. First, PFMT is described as a physical therapy and as an exercise therapy informed predominantly by the discipline of physical therapy. However, effective implementation requires use of the cognitive and behavioral perspectives of the discipline of psychology. Second, the theoretical underpinning of the psychology-informed elements of PFMT is summarized. Third, to address some identified limitations and confusion in current terminology and reporting, recommendations for ways in which physical therapists can incorporate the psychology-informed elements of PFMT alongside the more familiar exercise therapy-informed elements are made. Fourth, an example of how both elements can be described and reported in a PFMT intervention is provided. In summary, this perspective explores the underlying concepts of PFMT to demonstrate that it is both a physical intervention and a behavioral intervention and that it can and should be described as such, and an example of the integration of these elements into clinical practice is provided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)425-437
Number of pages13
JournalPhysical Therapy
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2017


  • Pelvic floor
  • Exercise
  • Behavior therapy
  • Muscle strength

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