How do biofeedback exercisers work?

Perhaps by now you’ve heard all about how useful biofeedback exercisers can be for making sure you’re contracting the correct muscles when doing Kegels. You might know that they can monitor your progress and keep your new habit on track while having fun! But how exactly do they work? 

How it started vs. How it’s going

Back in the 1940s, Arnold Kegel, the man who invented Kegel exercises, also invented a device called a perineometer. This device had air-filled sacs that when inserted into the vagina would measure the pressure exerted by the pelvic floor muscles. Dr. Kegel noticed that the pelvic floor muscles weakened after childbirth and would use this device to determine whether Kegel exercises would be a helpful treatment and to monitor the progress of his patients. 

“Dr. Kegel noticed that the pelvic floor muscles weakened after childbirth, and would use this device to determine whether Kegel exercises would be a helpful treatment.”

These days, biofeedback devices use a more accurate system to measure muscle contractions called electromyography. Electromyography is used in many medical devices and it works by detecting the electric potential generated by muscle cells when they are activated. In other words, it can sense tiny electric signals that each muscle in the body creates. When it’s accompanied by software, such as an app, it can give the user or healthcare worker precise data about any abnormalities, activation levels, and as well as analyze the biomechanics of human movement. Some biofeedback devices also include pressure sensors to measure the pressure that pelvic floor muscles exert onto the device during a contraction. 

If you’re exhibiting signs of prolapse or pelvic floor dysfunction, your doctor might use a biofeedback device to measure your pelvic floor muscle strength and determine treatment options. 

How to use a biofeedback exerciser at home

Biofeedback exercisers may have started in the clinic but now you can use them from the comfort of your home! 

When using a biofeedback exerciser at home, first be sure it’s cleaned properly, and second, insert the device into your vagina. Many devices come with an app that allows you to connect your trainer with your phone so that you can see your pelvic floor muscles in action. An initial assessment will be made to determine how strong your contraction is and whether you’re targeting the correct muscles. Afterwards, if the app supports this feature, the exercises will be tailored to your level based on the data from your training. Some devices will also give you feedback about the quality, relaxation, endurance, and agility of your contractions. With regular exercise, the device can monitor your improvement over time and give you tactile, visual, or auditory cues if adjustments to your exercises need to be made. When finished, be sure to clean your device so that it’s ready to use for your next session! Not all devices include the same features, so be sure to find one that matches your needs. 

Why use a biofeedback exerciser?

Regularly doing proper Kegel exercises can help prevent the need for surgery or other invasive techniques for people at risk or with symptoms of certain pelvic floor dysfunctions. Biofeedback devices take the guesswork out of training so that both you and your doctor know that you’re doing them correctly and can see progress happening with your own eyes. Visually seeing your progress can be a strong motivator for continuing your exercises and creating behavioral change and muscle awareness. 

“They can prevent the need for surgery or other invasive techniques and take the guesswork out of training so that both you and your doctor know that you’re doing them correctly and can see the progress with your own eyes.” 

Since up to 50% of people who've delivered a baby vaginally experience some degree of prolapse later in life, it’s well worth trying to prevent. Best of all, Kegels are easy and fun to do! If you haven’t tried them yet, or are interested in incorporating these exercises into your routine, the best time to start is now. Consider getting a biofeedback device to make sure you’re contracting the correct muscles, or talk to your doctor or physical therapist about it. Remember, not all biofeedback exercisers are the same. So make sure to find the device that’s right for you based on the features you want your device to have. Reaching your pelvic floor goals has never been easier!

Article written by
Dama Awadallah, Medical Doctor
Research assistant for the Mary S. Easton Center for Disease Research

On the same topic:

Discover the magic behind a healthy pelvic floor:

 

References :

Floriane Jochum, Olivier Garbin, Julien Godet, et al. Prospective evaluation of the connected biofeedback EMY Kegel trainer in the management of stress urinary incontinence,

Journal of Gynecology Obstetrics and Human Reproduction,Volume 51, Issue 2.

https://bio-medical.com/resources/the-use-of-emg-biofeedback-for-training-pelvic-floor/

Mehler, Bruce & Larsson, Katharine. (2014). Electromyographic (EMG) Biofeedback in the Treatment of Pelvic Floor Disorders. 10.1002/9781118453940.ch16.

https://www.physio-pedia.com/Pelvic_Floor_Dysfunction

Burgio KL, Robinson JC, Engel BT. The role of biofeedback in Kegel exercise training for stress urinary incontinence. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1986 Jan;154(1):58-64. doi: 10.1016/0002-9378(86)90393-5. PMID: 3946505.

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/uterine-prolapse

Matthew D Barber, Christopher Maher. Epidemiology and outcome assessment of pelvic organ prolapse. International Urogynecological Journal (24/11/2013).