Auckland Bioengineering Institute

Pelvic Floor Research Group

Investigating pelvic floor mechanics to improve women’s health before and after childbirth

Sectional diagram of the pelvic floor

We are developing a quantitative understanding of the anatomy and function of the pelvic floor muscles in women. We are also investigating the mechanisms of pelvic floor muscle failure, and the development of pelvic organ prolapse in women.

Our approach relies on a physiome-style combination of computational and mathematical modelling, the development and testing of novel bio-instrumentation and medical devices, and quantitative data from experimental and clinical studies.We are also interested in quantifying the role of pelvic floor physiotherapy for both preventative purposes and rehabilitation of pelvic floor muscle dysfunction.

Change in intra-abdominal pressure during activities of daily living. How much is too much?


About our work

We are collaborating with clinicians from Counties Manukau District Health (CMDH), Professor Hans Peter Dietz of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Sydney, and allied health professionals such as physiotherapists. Each approach provides a different set of advantages and information that is required to create a comprehensive understanding of pelvic floor muscle function. Specific projects include:

Pelvic floor elastometry and the Levator Ani (LA) study

We have initiated a collaborative clinical study with CMDHB to investigate the incidence of pelvic floor muscle injury during childbirth. We are investigating the relationship between pelvic floor muscle injury, muscle elasticity, and ethnicity. We have developed a novel medical device (a pelvic floor muscle elastometer) to quantify pelvic floor muscle stiffness in order to test whether it is a predictor of muscle injury.

Computational modelling of childbirth

Computational biomechanical models, in combination with specific bio-instrumentation, offer a quantitative way to investigate pelvic floor mechanics. We are developing biomechanical models of childbirth by simulating fetal head descent through the pelvic floor muscles to investigate their mechanical interactions. Ultimately, we aim to predict the risk of pelvic floor injury, on an individual-specific basis, during the second stage of labour. Such models also have the potential to elucidate mechanisms for the development and treatment of pelvic floor disorders.

A unique wireless sensor for quantifying intra-abdominal pressure

We are working with the Implantable Devices Group at the ABI and Millar Instruments at the ABI to develop a wireless sensor that can reliably record changes in intra-abdominal pressure during various activities such as exercise. This is in direct response to questions raised by our clinical collaborators at CMDHB who are interested in investigating how exercise affects pelvic floor function, and how this relates to pelvic organ prolapse.

Can pelvic floor physiotherapy improve muscle function in women with a known avulsion injury of the pelvic floor muscle?

This is a feasibility study we are working on with Associate Professor Mélanie Morin of the University of Sherbrooke, Canada.The study is to determine the effect of physiotherapy treatments in women suffering from pelvic floor injury following childbirth. Outcome measures include using the elastometer to determine changes in pelvic floor muscle elasticity with treatment over a six month period.  This study is ongoing.

Mitigating chronic floor disfunction following childbirth by pelvic floor elastometry.

Using the Auckland Elastometer, we are working with Dr Xinshan Li and Professor Dilly OC Anumba of the University of Sheffield to determine if elastometry can predict pelvic floor muscle injury in women following childbirth. The data from this pilot study will also inform biomechanical computational models of the pelvic floor that are being developed by Dr Li.

Related links:

The Insigneo Institute for in silico medicine is a collaborative initiative between the University of Sheffield and Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. It is a multi-disciplinary institute involving over 110 academics and clinicians who collaborate to develop computer simulations of the human body and its disease processes that can be used directly in clinical practice to improve diagnosis and treatment.



Group members and collaborators

Clinical collaborators

  • Professor Hans Peter Dietz (Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney)
  • Professor Chantal Dumoulin (University of Montreal, Canada)
  • Dr Mélanie Morin (Université de Sherbrooke, Canada)
  • Dr Lynsey Hayward (Counties Manukau District Health Board)
  • Dr Jackie Smalldrigde (Counties Manukau District Health Board)
  • Hannah Piggin (Physiotherapist; Counties Manukau District Health Board)
  • Dr Xinshan (Shannon) Li (Department of Mechanical Engineering, INGENIO Institute for insilico Medicine, University of Sheffield)
  • Professor Dilly OC Anumba (Department of Human Metabolism, University of Sheffield)


Dr Rob Kirton (to 2013)