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Biofeedback for Treatment of Pelvic Floor Conditions: What It Is and How it Works

What is biofeedback for the pelvic floor and is it right for you? In this post, we’ll explore the fundamentals of pelvic floor biofeedback and identify those who may benefit from this pelvic floor treatment.

What is biofeedback?

Biofeedback is a treatment tool that can be used in physical therapy in order to provide visual insights into how your  muscles function

Biofeedback for the pelvic floor offers  visual and auditory representations of the activity of your pelvic floor muscles. When using biofeedback, you have the ability to observe the activity of your pelvic floor muscles both during contraction (such as during a kegel exercise) and when you intentionally relax these muscles.  At the same time you can receive feedback in the form of sound that correlates with the activity of your muscles.While biofeedback can be used onany muscle group to assess that muscle’s ability to contract and relax,it’s particularly effective for the pelvic floor because most of the pelvic floor muscles are internal.

For example, when contracting the quadricep muscle, the muscle in the front of your thigh, you can visually see the shortening and tightening of the muscle without biofeedback. This is because quad muscle contraction is visible externally.

Since the pelvic floor muscles are mostly internal, it makes it difficult to visually see their contraction and relaxation. Fpr some biofeedback can help bridge this gap by providing a visual representation and feedback This can be helpful for those who struggle with accurately contracting or relaxing their pelvic floor muscles.

How does biofeedback work?

All muscles work via electrical activity. Biofeedback is a tool that is able to read the electrical activity of different muscles.  Think about an EKG for the heart muscle. Doctors often assess the health of people’s heart muscle using an EKG.

Biofeedback involves the placement of sensors in the targeted muscle area to monitor and display muscle activity. These sensors detect muscle contractions and relaxations while giving you feedback through sound and showing you their activity in a visual way. Typically the sound gets louder as the muscular activity increases and quieter as the activity decreases.

The visual representation is often in the form of a line graph on a screen or through lights on smaller biofeedback machines.As the pelvic floor muscles contract, the line or lights will rise to indicate a muscle contraction. As the muscles relax, the lines or lights will descend.

There are two options for biofeedback for the pelvic floor, external sensors or an internal sensor.

External sensors, which are like sticky pads, are placed in the area surrounding your anus. Here they will detect pelvic floor muscle activity.

The more common device used for pelvic floor biofeedback is an internal sensor. This is because an internal sensor is able to detect muscle activity from your deep pelvic floor muscles which is often more beneficial in treatment. For men, a rectal sensor is used. For women, the internal sensor can be either a vaginal sensor or a rectal sensor. The choice of sensor type for women will be determined by your pelvic floor physical therapist based on individual assessment.

How does biofeedback help and who can benefit?

Biofeedback isn’t used for every person with a pelvic floor problem, but it can be helpful in some cases.

For individuals experiencing challenges with proprioception and body awareness, biofeedback can be a valuable treatment tool. For example, if an individual is having a difficult time performing a kegel correctly, biofeedback may be a great tool to utilize as it can show individuals when they are properly contracting the pelvic floor muscles.

If an individual can contract the pelvic floor muscles properly but has a difficult time holding the contraction, biofeedback may also be helpful. This is because the visual representation will show you when you are losing the contraction. For example, on a line graph, you will see the line rise as you contract your pelvic floor. If you’re able to hold this contraction, the line will stay steady. If you cannot hold the contraction, the line will start to fall. This information can be helpful for those who need to work on pelvic floor muscle strengthening as holding pelvic floor contractions for 10+seconds is beneficial for building strength in these muscles.

Conversely, individuals with tight pelvic floor muscles who are struggling to relax this muscle group may also find biofeedback to be beneficial. This is because biofeedback can also provide a visual representation of muscle relaxation.

But keep in mind that biofeedback is only one of many tools and potential treatment techniques that can be used by your pelvic physical therapist. And no tool is perfect. Although biofeedback can give you and your physical therapist good information, it is not always accurate.  Biofeedback can and will pick up the electrical activity of surrounding muscles which can affect the auditory and visual feedback. Because of this, it is essential for each patient’s pelvic floor muscles to be manually and visually assessed by their pelvic physical therapist.

Do I need to use biofeedback?

Determining the suitability of biofeedback is a personalized process guided by your pelvic floor physical therapist. They will assess your specific needs and conditions to decide whether biofeedback is the right intervention for you.

If you’re experiencing an issue with your pelvic floor, we are here to help.

Contact ITR Physical Therapy today at 301-770-7060 to schedule an appointment with our experienced Bethesda and McLean pelvic floor physical therapy team.