No matter how many pelvic examinations a woman has, it's unlikely she'll ever feel at ease about being asked to place her feet up in metal stirrups. Still, the stirrups position is thought to afford the best view of the vulvovaginal area and facilitate proper placement of exam instruments. According to the findings of a new study, however, there may be an acceptable, less vexing alternative, reports the October 2006 issue of Harvard Women's Health Watch.
In a randomized trial of stirrups versus no stirrups for routine gynecological exams, researchers found that women who were allowed to keep their feet on the examining table felt significantly more comfortable than those whose feet were placed in stirrups. The study also demonstrated that it's possible to perform pelvic exams and obtain Pap smears—important screening tests for cervical cancer—without using stirrups.
For some women, feelings of exposure, discomfort, or even pain during exams are potential barriers to getting gynecological care. Having the no-stirrups option might encourage more women see their doctors regularly for Pap smears.
According to Harvard Women's Health Watch, doctors may want to see more evidence that Pap smears obtained without stirrups are comparable in quality to those obtained using stirrups before making a change. Dr. Celeste Robb-Nicholson, editor-in-chief of the Harvard Women's Health Watch, suggests that if you're interested in having a pelvic exam with your feet on the table instead of in stirrups, discuss it with your clinician.