What is the role of biofeedback in urinary incontinence treatment?

Updated: Jan 22, 2021
  • Author: Sandip P Vasavada, MD; Chief Editor: Edward David Kim, MD, FACS  more...
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Biofeedback therapy is a form of pelvic floor muscle rehabilitation using an electronic device for individuals having difficulty identifying levator ani muscles. Biofeedback therapy is recommended for treatment of stress incontinence, urge incontinence, and mixed incontinence.

Biofeedback therapy uses a computer and electronic instruments to relay auditory or visual information to the patient about the status of pelvic muscle activity. These devices allow the patient to receive immediate visual feedback on the activity of the pelvic floor muscles, thereby providing incentive and confirmation of proper performance of the muscle contractions.

Biofeedback is intensive therapy, with weekly sessions performed in an office or a hospital by a trained professional, and it often is followed by a regimen of pelvic floor muscle exercises at home. During biofeedback therapy, a special tampon-shaped sensor is inserted in the patient's vagina or rectum and a second sensor is placed on her abdomen. These sensors detect electrical signals from the pelvic floor muscles. The patient then is instructed to contract and relax the pelvic floor muscles upon command.

When the exercises are performed properly, the electric signals from the pelvic floor muscles are registered on a computer screen. Biofeedback, using multimeasurement recording, displays the simultaneous measurement of pelvic and abdominal muscle activity on the computer monitor.

Biofeedback allows the patient to correctly identify the pelvic muscles that need rehabilitation. The benefit of biofeedback therapy is that it provides the patient with minute-by-minute feedback on the quality and intensity of her pelvic floor contraction. Combining bladder and urinary sphincter biofeedback allows the patient to regulate the pelvic muscle contraction in response to increasing bladder volumes and to monitor the bladder activity. Biofeedback is best used in conjunction with pelvic floor muscle exercises and bladder training.

Studies on biofeedback combined with pelvic floor exercises show a 54-87% improvement with incontinence. The best biofeedback protocol is the one that reinforces levator ani muscle contraction with inhibition of abdominal and bladder contraction. Reports using this method show a 76-82% reduction in urinary incontinence. Biofeedback also has been used successfully in the treatment of men with urge incontinence and intermittent stress incontinence after prostate surgery.

Studies have demonstrated significant improvement in urinary incontinence in women with neurologic disease and in the frail older population when a combination of biofeedback and bladder training is used. Biofeedback provides a specific reinforcement for pelvic muscle contraction that is isolated from the counterproductive abdominal contraction. Therefore, awareness of levator ani muscle contraction can be achieved more efficiently using biofeedback than vaginal palpation alone.

Biofeedback produces a greater reduction in female urinary incontinence, compared with pelvic muscle exercises alone. Overall, the medical literature indicates that pelvic muscle exercises and other behavioral strategies, with or without biofeedback, can cure or reduce incontinence. However, the maximum benefit is derived from any pelvic muscle rehabilitation and education program when ongoing reinforcement and guidance, such as biofeedback therapy, are provided.

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