If you’re a woman of a certain age, chances are you’ve seen the ads for the various pelvic floor devices out there. The scientific name for these kegel exercise trainers is “pelvic floor biofeedback devices". There’s a vast collection of digital vagina trainers available. These devices claim to help “train the pelvic floor muscles”. The gadgets range from specific biofeedback devices, to kegel weights, vaginal cones, and more. While there can be a time and place for these types of pelvic floor tools, be careful not to fall into the mindset that they can fix all your pelvic floor issues.
What is Pelvic Floor Biofeedback?
Biofeedback is a fancy term referring to the process of gaining more body awareness in a specific muscle or area of the body. The pelvic floor muscles are an area of the body where many people lack awareness. It is common for women to not know if they are performing a kegel (AKA pelvic floor squeeze) properly. Pelvic floor biofeedback is sometimes used for common pelvic floor issues such as: pelvic pain, urinary leakage, or vaginal pressure or heaviness.
The Problem with Pelvic Floor Biofeedback Devices
The idea behind pelvic floor biofeedback is to help women know if they are kegeling properly. This is a great theory and has the potential to help women determine if they can do a kegel. The kegel exercise can be hard to describe and difficult to feel, especially for women dealing with overactive or weak pelvic floor muscles. A common mistake when attempting a kegel is to push or bear down instead of drawing the pelvic floor muscles up and inward.
However, the one red flag is that sometimes biofeedback devices can pick up other muscle activity (or other muscles squeezing). The device might show that you are doing a proper kege. But in reality, you may be squeezing some of the wrong muscles. When doing a kegel, it is important to avoid squeezing your inner thighs or glutes (buttocks). It's also important to avoid holding your breath. While a kegel tracker might think you’re doing a proper pelvic floor squeeze, it might be picking up on these other muscles movements. Incorrect muscle training can lead to worsening issues like incontinence or even pain.
Can Biofeedback Help My Issue?
Another downfall to these devices is that not everyone needs to work on strengthening the pelvic floor muscles to fix their issues. Sometimes your urinary/gas leakage, vaginal heaviness, or pelvic pain might be coming from muscles that are too tight (or overactive). So squeezing or trying to strengthen these muscles over and over can lead to even more tightness.
Over time, your problem could actually get worse or simply never improve. And you're left with a device you paid good money for and a pelvic floor that’s still not functioning properly. However, if muscle weakness is the root cause of your issue, biofeedback could be helpful for you. Realistically, the only way to know for sure is with the help of a pelvic floor physical therapist.
Does Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Include Biofeedback?
There are times in pelvic floor PT when we may encourage the use of an at-home biofeedback device. But we never recommend pelvic floor biofeedback without formally assessing the pelvic floor muscles first. We want to start by determining if strengthening is the correct route to go. At our clinic, we don’t use a biofeedback machine, due to the likelihood of the device picking up on the wrong muscle contractions. Instead, we manually assess how the muscles are working to give more precise feedback on the issue at hand. This way we can quickly and accurately determine if the muscles are weak, tight, or both. By using targeted manual feedback, we're able to take a more precise approach for each individual woman.
In conclusion, using an at-home biofeedback device isn’t necessarily a wrong approach for resolving your pelvic floor issues. Many women find success with these devices. But before you drop $200 on a kegel trainer, it may be helpful to chat with a pelvic floor physical therapist first. If you are experiencing urinary leakage, vaginal pressure or heaviness, or pelvic pain, a women’s health PT can help you determine whether or not a pelvic floor biofeedback device is the best solution for you. If you’ve already tried one but haven’t seen results, it might be time to seek help from a professional to resolve your issues for good.
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