How Physical Therapy Can Help Pelvic Floor Disorders

Patient Expert

"Well, I've never heard of that kind of physical therapy...."

Sigh. If I had a dollar for every time I heard some version of that statement, I could run a pretty mighty word-spreading media campaign. By "that kind," I mean physical therapy for the pelvic floor and the problems that occur in that region of the body.

These problems are often collectively referred to as pelvic floor disorders (PFDs) and include (but are not limited to) urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, pelvic pain, bowel problems (leakage and constipation), and sexual health concerns -- yes, physical therapy for your privates and their most private comings and goings.

The thing is, we've been doing this physical therapy (PT) for a few generations now and getting better and better at it all the time.

Such specialized PT, frequently referred to as Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy (PFPT), is now recognized as a mainline intervention for PFDs, and its effectiveness is established in the medical literature1,2. The most fundamental reason why physical therapy has emerged as such a valuable component in pelvic health is that the essence of physical therapy/the physical therapist is a beautiful match for the rehabilitative needs of the pelvic floor. Education, behavioral training, muscle strengthening, muscle coordination, posture, functional movement -- these are all needs of the individual who experiences a PFD and are right up the PT alley.   In fact, the American Physical Therapy Association has adopted a consumer-facing campaign around the slogan "Move Forward". This is based on the premises that PTs:

  • "Can help improve or restore the mobility you need to move forward with your life."
  • Will "develop a plan of care using a variety of treatment techniques that help you move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability."
  • "...can also help you prevent loss of mobility and motion by developing a fitness- and wellness-oriented program tailored to your specific needs."

This is of particular value given that while PFDs are not an immediate threat to life, they are a major contributor to decreased health-related quality of life, decreased participation in and independence with household and community activities (including a leading cause of admissions to nursing homes), and decreased exercise participation.

The bottom line

Living with untreated PFDs limits one's ability to 'Move Forward.'  Find a PT who can help you or your  loved one address their pelvic floor issues.


  1. Hagen S, Stark D.   Conservative prevention and management of pelvic organ prolapse in women.   Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Dec 7;(12):CD003882.
  2. Dumoulin C, Hay-Smith J.   Pelvic floor  muscle training versus no treatment, or inactive control treatments, for urinary incontinence  in women.   Cochrane  Database  Syst Rev. 2010 Jan 20;(1):CD005654.