Biofeedback training can help people with incontinence regain control over the muscles that regulate urination or bowel movements. The treatment uses monitors that "feed back" certain biological levels. Armed with this information, patients can learn to alter and control involuntary functions of the body.
Electromyographic biofeedback, which measures muscle tension, is often used to treat both urinary and bowel incontinence. For example, electrodes can be attached around the anus to measure electrical activity, which is translated into degrees of muscle pressure. The biofeedback trainer then instructs the patient on ways to tense up or relax these muscles around the anus, and the biofeedback monitor shows the progress.
For urinary incontinence, biofeedback also offers a way to check that patients are properly doing their exercises of the pelvis muscles. With women, a probe is inserted in the vagina to measure muscle contractions and relaxation.
About a dozen studies have shown that biofeedback training can improve bowel incontinence in more than 70 percent of patients tested. Other studies have reported 20 to 25 percent of patients being totally "cured" of urinary incontinence after undergoing a course of treatment with biofeedback training.
Biofeedback training can be used to reinforce the pelvic muscle exercises taught to women with certain types of urinary incontinence. The exercises, done four times a day, include the following steps:
- Tighten and then relax the muscles around the vagina and urethra as fast as you can. Do this about ten times. (To make sure you're using the right muscles, the next time you're sitting on the toilet, try to stop the flow of urine midstream. If you can stop the flow, then you're using those muscles.)
- Next, tighten the muscles, hold for four seconds, and then relax. Also do this about ten times.