Pelvic Floor Symptoms Are an Overlooked Barrier to Exercise Participation: A Cross-Sectional Online Survey of 4556 Women Who Are Symptomatic

Jodie G. Dakic, Jill Cook, Jean Hay-Smith, Kuan-Yin Lin, Christina Ekegren, Helena Frawley

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4 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: This study aimed to: (1) investigate barriers to exercise in women with pelvic floor (PF) symptoms (urinary incontinence [UI], anal incontinence [AI], and pelvic organ prolapse [POP]); (2) determine factors associated with reporting PF symptoms as a substantial exercise barrier; and (3) investigate the association between reporting PF symptoms as an exercise barrier and physical inactivity. METHODS: In this cross-sectional survey, Australian women who were 18 to 65 years of age and had PF symptoms completed an anonymous online survey (May-September 2018) containing validated PF and physical activity questionnaires: Questionnaire for Female Urinary Incontinence Diagnosis, Incontinence Severity Index, Pelvic Floor Bother Questionnaire, and International Physical Activity Questionnaire. Participants reported exercise barriers and the degree to which the barriers limited participation. Binary logistic regression was used to identify variables associated with (1) identifying PF symptoms as a substantial exercise barrier and (2) physical inactivity. RESULTS: In this cohort (N = 4556), 31% (n = 1429) reported PF symptoms as a substantial exercise barrier; UI was the most frequently reported barrier. Two-thirds of participants who identified POP and UI as exercise barriers had stopped exercising. The odds of reporting PF symptoms as a substantial exercise barrier were significantly higher for women with severe UI (odds ratio [OR] = 4.77; 95% CI = 3.60-6.34), high symptom bother (UI OR = 10.19; 95% CI = 7.24-14.37; POP OR = 22.38; 95% CI = 13.04-36.60; AI OR = 29.66; 95% CI = 7.21-122.07), those who had a vaginal delivery (1 birth OR = 2.04; 95% CI = 1.63-2.56), or those with a third- or fourth-degree obstetric tear (OR = 1.47; 95% CI = 1.24-1.76). The odds of being physically inactive were greater in women who identified PF symptoms as an exercise barrier than in those who did not (OR = 1.33; 95% CI = 1.1-1.59). CONCLUSION: One in 3 women reported PF symptoms as a substantial exercise barrier, and this was associated with increased odds of physical inactivity. IMPACT: Physical inactivity is a major cause of mortality and morbidity in women. Pelvic floor symptoms stop women participating in exercise and are associated with physical inactivity. Screening and management of PF symptoms could allow women to remain physically active across their life span. LAY SUMMARY: Pelvic floor symptoms are a substantial barrier to exercise in women of all ages, causing them to stop exercising and increasing the odds of being physical inactive. Physical therapists can screen and help women manage their PF symptoms so that they remain physically active.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberpzab284
Number of pages10
JournalPTJ: Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2022


  • Barriers
  • Exercise
  • Incontinence
  • Pelvic Floor
  • Pelvic Organ Prolapse
  • Physical Activity

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