Congratulations to SPCR Research Fellow Gillian Campbell who was recently awarded the annual research prize for the Pelvic Obstetric and Gynaecological Physiotherapy professional network of the Charted Society of Physiotherapy (CSP). It is one of the largest CSP networks and the research prize was awarded for the best abstract submitted for blinded peer review for conference.
The abstract was ‘Symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction as reported by recreational athletes: results from a national survey’.
The aim of this cross-sectional internet survey was to investigate the prevalence of symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction reported by women exercising recreationally and also by women who did not exercise. We anticipated that this would identify any associations between exercising at this level and experiencing symptoms. (It has been reported previously that elite athletes are more likely to report symptoms such as urinary incontinence than non-athletes and suggested that elite sport may be a potential risk to experiencing pelvic floor dysfunction)
In less than three months 1598 women consented to take part. Very high levels of all symptoms were reported overall but we were unable to find any association between exercising recreationally and experiencing symptoms, despite adjusting for all other confounders. Women commented that these symptoms are very distressing and affect all aspects of their lives including their sport but the majority had never sought professional help. Some commented that they were too embarrassed to seek help while others believed their symptoms were not serious enough to bother the GP with. For those who had sought help, many felt let down by the healthcare professionals they had seen.
There are limitations to any survey like this for, although we advertised for ALL women to take part, inevitably those with a particular interest will click the link. Further these are not elite athletes and so have the capacity to modify or stop their sport when they experience symptoms. However given that 90% of our exercisers had been doing so for over 5 years this tentatively suggests that for the women in this survey, exercising recreationally did not increase their risk of experiencing symptoms.
The main results have been published in full in the International Urogynaecology Journal as open access and the comments in the Journal of POGP.