What Is Vaginal Splinting?

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Vaginal splinting is the term used to describe a procedure in which a woman uses her fingers to press on the vagina as an way to try to evacuate stool during the process of a bowel movement. Typically, this is done in response to constipation and a sense of incomplete evacuation.

Vaginal splinting is considered a form of digital evacuation. Related behaviors include putting a finger into the rectum to remove stool, or massaging the buttocks or perineum.

The prevalence of vaginal splinting is unknown. However, it is estimated that approximately 20% of women experience some sort of dysfunction in the process of defecation. This dysfunction can lead to difficulties with full evacuation of the rectum during a bowel movement. Women resort to splinting as a way to compensate for the changes in the anatomy and function of their rectal anatomy.

Health Conditions Associated with Vaginal Splinting

There are various health conditions that increase a risk for vaginal splinting. These include:

  • Dyssynergic defecation (dysfunction of the pelvic floor muscles)
  • Cystocele (bulging of the bladder into the vagina)
  • Enterocele (bulging of the small bowel into the vagina and the rectum)
  • Rectocele (bulging of the wall of the rectum into the vagina)

The Splinting Study

The research on vaginal splinting is extremely limited. I was able to find one intriguing study. Twenty-nine women agreed to participate in a study which involved the use of a dynamic MRI.

The study was designed to get a glimpse into what happens when a woman engages in digital evacuation behaviors.

For the sake of science, these brave women agreed to use their typical splinting behavior while undergoing an MRI. The researchers were trying to assess what the problems were with the pelvic anatomy of the women, and what effect the splinting behavior had on these identified problems.

The results indicated that just under 60% used vaginal splinting, while a little under one-third used the area of the perineum, and the remaining 10% manipulated the buttocks area. With the exception of one participant, the splinting behavior was successful in either partically or fully correcting the underlying anatomical defect. The researchers do not know for sure how each woman was able to come up with such a successful resolution to the problem, but surmise that trial and error led to an eventual solution that was then continued to be used.

The researchers hope that the further research using dynamic MRIs may lead to a better understanding of the need for splinting, as well as improved surgical options.

Should You Tell Your Doctor?

If you need to use your fingers in order to facilitate stool emptying, it is important that you bring this to your doctor's attention. (Don't worry - they are not likely to recommend that you go through the motions of splinting during an MRI!) Your doctor will attempt to identify what the underlying dysfunction is and then discuss what course of treatment will be best for you.


Apostolis, C., et. al. "Assessment of Women With Defecatory Dysfunction and Manual Splinting Using Dynamic Pelvic Floor Magnetic Resonance Imaging" Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery 2012 18:18-24.

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