Assessing pelvic floor muscle function in individuals with spinal cord injury

study logo - stethoscope
Researcher(s): Dr. Tania Lam

The pelvic floor muscles (PFM) are situated under the bladder and play a crucial role in bladder control by facilitating the voluntary retention and voiding of urine. In the able-bodied population, training programs to strengthen these muscles are a common treatment in fighting bladder problems including leakage and overactive bladder symptoms. However, we have yet to apply these training programs to individuals with SCI because we do not know how the PFM function post-injury. Researchers in Dr. Tania Lam’s lab want to determine how and if the PFM work in people with SCI using two different techniques.

What will happen if you participate?

In this study, you’ll be asked to come to the lab for a one 2.5 hour visit. Once you arrive, we will place small markers on your skin that record different types of muscle activity. We will also ask you to complete some questionnaires about your injury, overall health, and current bladder function. After this we will do two small experiments:

  1. In this 30 minute experiment, we will ask you to attempt to contract your PFM voluntarily by doing exercises from a traditional PFM strength program. Using the skin sensors, we will be able to see if you can activate these muscles by doing the exercises.
  2. In this 1.5 hour experiment, we will use transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to directly stimulate the neurons in your brain to activate your PFM. TMS is very safe, painless, and is used routinely for research and in medical practices across the world. You will hear a clicking sound from the a wand-like instrument we place over your skull, but will not be able to feel any sensation associated with the stimulation. Our goal is to see that stimulating your brain will result in a signal being sent down through your spinal cord, past your injury site, and out into the muscle we are interested in studying.

Why should you participate in this study?

Research suggests that over 80% of individuals with SCI experience some form of bladder impairments post-injury. However, current bladder management techniques are limited and pose other health concerns (e.g. bladder infections from catheter use). Our hope is that by demonstrating how the PFM function after SCI, we can aid in developing new and non-invasive rehabilitation methods to improve bladder function and overall quality of life for those with SCI.

You may be able to participate in this study if you:

  • are between 19-60 years of age
  • incurred a spinal cord injury at least 12 months ago
  • have an SCI at or above the level of L1 AND is motor-complete (i.e. you have no movement below your injury level but may still have sensation)
  • are not currently pregnant / have not given birth within the last 12 months
  • have not had surgery to the abdomen, urinary systems, or genitalia within the last 12 months
  • do not have any permanent metal fixtures within your head (e.g. metal plates, screws) excluding dental fillings
  • do not have a history of seizures, have an immediate family member with a history of seizures, or are taking medication that lower the seizure threshold
  • have not had a severe head/brain injury

Time commitment: 2.5 hours

Compensation for participation: $50

The study will take place at the Blusson Spinal Cord Centre (818 West 10th Avenue, Vancouver).

For more information or to sign up to participate, please contact the study coordinator, Alison Williams, by email or call 604-675-8815.