Do Pelvic Floor Gadgets Work?
For a year, I ran free weekly drop-in sessions on pelvic health, in my living room. The display of various pelvic floor gadgets was always the scene-stealer. We are surrounded by time-saving aids in our life and often see devices as a shortcut to doing pelvic floor exercises. But do they actually work?
The short answer IS...
Apps can make it easier to get into the habit of exercising and training devices that you put inside your vagina can help you get motivated and maximise your results. But with any gadget or aid, the key pre-requisite is to do the exercises in the right way. Also, strengthening your muscles is not always the right starting point.
You can only truly understand how to properly work your pelvic muscles with a specialist women's health physiotherapist who will do a vaginal examination and will give you personalised advice. All women's health physiotherapists will tell you that the ultimate goal is for you to be able to do pelvic floor exercises without any aid.
The best approach is to go and see a specialist physio first, before investing in a costly gadget, to learn about the state of your muscles and understand what gadgets are right for you. For example, a reminder app to keep on track with the exercises, or an electrostimulation device to wake up those muscles, or a biofeedback device to visualise what you are doing, or you might realise you do not need any gadgets at all.
Two things to consider
Based on my experience of two birth recoveries, talking to 200+ women and 150+ health professionals, there are two aspects to consider in using gadgets:
Everyone's pelvic floor is unique. Using strengthening devices is not always the most effective or even appropriate starting point. Your overall health matters too.
Ultimately, you want to be able to use your pelvic muscles efficiently without any aid.
#1 Everyone's pelvic floor is unique
Various factors affect your pelvic floor function and using gadgets to strengthen your muscles might not be the most appropriate starting point for you.
Your pelvic floor might be tense after pregnancy and labour. You can't efficiently exercise a cramped muscle. You will need to relax it first. The ability to relax your muscle completely between squeezes is an essential skill for your pelvic muscles to have an optimal range.
If you have had an episiotomy or a perineal tear, the scar tissue around the area has a different texture to the rest of the muscle. It may restrict the muscle's optimal range. The scar tissue can also become tight and may become attached to layers below. This may cause discomfort during intercourse and during activity. A specialist physio can assess if scar tissue is of concern and needs massaging.
Your pelvic bones might be misaligned after pregnancy and birth. Misaligned pelvis changes the pull on the pelvic muscle, and that can affect its optimal function.
You might have a prolapse and not know about it. With prolapse, your vaginal tissues are weaker. Therefore some devices that you put inside your vagina may not be appropriate in the management of prolapse or make your prolapse worse.
Gadgets are not compatible with some health conditions, e.g. for use in pregnancy, if you have a vaginal infection, herpes, heart condition, etc. Read the manual, contact the maker and consult your healthcare professionals to check the contraindications before you buy/use a gadget.
Finally, the majority of women engage the wrong muscle without realising it and use the glute and abdominal muscles instead of the pelvic floor. Biofeedback gadgets can be tricked and might still show a good squeeze, while your pelvic muscles stay dormant.
The difficulty is that the pelvic floor is impossible for you to see. The best approach would be to see a women's health physio first for an internal examination and personalised advice on the gadget that is helpful and safe for you to use.
Through my personal experience of two birth recoveries, in the UK and in France, and my work as a recovery and wellness coach, I firmly believe that all new mums should have access to pelvic floor rehabilitation after childbirth for a quality assessment and a personalised programme of recovery.
I presented this position when I was one of 12 speakers at the Governmental roundtable discussions in 2018 on improving postnatal care in the UK. In the Long-Term Plan 2019, the NHS England committed to improving access to postnatal physiotherapy to support women who need it to recover from birth.
#2 The goal is to be able to engage pelvic muscles without any aid
Women's health physiotherapists (also called pelvic health physios) are the specialists in strengthening the pelvic floor and abdominal muscles around childbirth.
I collaborate with many women's health physiotherapists, trained in the UK, France, Germany and Australia, working both privately and on the NHS. They might have different approaches on when and how to do pelvic floor exercises and the use of gadgets. Still, all of them agree on one thing - the goal is to teach you to do pelvic floor exercises without any aid.
Why? Because women require that skill in day-to-day life - lifting, jumping, exercising, coughing, sneezing, making love - all those situations when you do not have access to a pelvic floor device.
Also, a gadget is not a shortcut to a strong pelvic muscle. Research shows that exercises under the supervision of a specialist physio are more efficient than electrical stimulation and vaginal cones in treatment of genuine stress incontinence.
Practice shows that biofeedback devices can be tricked and will show a good squeeze if you use your glute and abdominal muscles instead of the pelvic floor.
A review of various gadgets is coming up soon.
To access 'All you need to know about your pelvic floor in 8 short videos', click here.
DISCLAIMER: The information and suggestions in this blog post are based on my personal experience, the information I find while doing my extensive research and working with expert health professionals. It's a topic that I am passionate about, and I refer only to quality sources of information, but I am not a medical professional. If you are unsure about doing something that impacts your body or how you feel, please consult a qualified medical professional.
The views in this blog post are mine and are not sponsored by any company and are free from advertising.
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