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Pelvic floor unknown and neglected - survey

Media release | Physiotherapy New Zealand

24 June, 2013

Pelvic floor unknown and neglected - survey

A nationwide survey by Physiotherapy New Zealand reveals New Zealanders are risking future health problems by neglecting their pelvic floor.

Released in time for World Continence Week (24-30 June) the survey shows more than a third of Kiwis never exercise their pelvic floor muscles, with only 9% doing daily pelvic floor exercises.

One in three people don’t know where their pelvic floor is, incorrectly labelling it as in the lower or upper stomach or even in the back/spine.

Physiotherapy NZ President Gill Stotter says the results are concerning because a strong pelvic floor is essential for preventing bladder and bowel incontinence. 

“Incontinence affects an estimated 1.1 million New Zealanders1, so it’s essential that the pelvic floor is better understood. Knowing where these muscles are located and how to exercise them correctly is important for preventing future problems.”

The pelvic floor is a ‘sling’ of muscles that stretch from the tailbone at the back to the pubic bone at the front. They support organs like the bladder and bowel, help to prevent leakage and also play a role in sexual function. Ageing, childbirth, pregnancy, chronic coughing, heavy lifting, constipation and obesity can all weaken the pelvic floor.

Pelvic floor physio Lisa Yates says pelvic floor muscle exercises are highly effective for preventing and treating incontinence.

“The important thing with these exercises is that the technique is correct and they need to be done regularly. Once a month just isn’t going to work. If you’re not sure where your pelvic floor is then it’s important you seek professional help to ensure you are doing the exercises correctly.”

Ms Yates says the survey shows more understanding is needed about the treatments available for pelvic floor disorders. 

The survey showed that while 90% were aware of pads as an aid, only 36% were aware that physiotherapy could help.

“Incontinence is an increasing problem worldwide, but people aren’t always aware of their options. Many people think that nothing can be done or that they’ll have to wear pads for the rest of their life, or undergo surgery; they need to know that there are other alternatives. Studies show physiotherapy in the form of pelvic floor muscle training can have up to an 80% cure rate of stress incontinence2.”

Another pelvic floor physio, Melissa Davidson, says men suffer from incontinence less than women but they are not off the hook entirely.

The survey showed 60% of men have never exercised their pelvic floor.

“Some males aren’t even aware they have a pelvic floor! The news for them is having a strong pelvic floor can help prevent leakage and can even help with erectile dysfunction. Studies have compared the results from pelvic floor muscle training to medications like Viagra,3” says Ms Davidson.  

Ms Davidson says pelvic floor exercises are also important for treating other disorders like prolapse in women.

“It’s estimated that 50% of women will experience a form of prolapse in their lifetime, yet it’s not a topic women like to discuss and treatment options aren’t widely known. It's now recommended that all prolapse patients see a pelvic floor physio for six months prior to considering surgery as there is such strong evidence for it.”

NZ Continence Association CEO, Jan Zander says that it’s essential that people talk more openly about problems like incontinence.

One in five surveyed said they would feel uncomfortable talking to a health professional about incontinence.

“We don’t want people to suffer in silence when it is treatable and preventable. If people can talk about it then we can help.” 

Physiotherapy New Zealand has released a free pelvic floor exercise guide available from For free advice on Continence issues phone 0800 650 659. 


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