Appliances claiming to exercise the pelvic floor
by Madeleine Speed
There are various appliances that state that they can help you to improve the function of your pelvic floor. For example, there are vaginal weights, cones and electronic toners that can be inserted into the vagina with the aim of strengthening the muscles, ligaments and fibres of the pelvic floor. Some of these are basic designs that encourage users to squeeze and use the strength of the pelvic floor to keep the appliance inside and which work by stimulating the muscles to contract. Other brands are more sophisticated and use digital technology to work muscles, send information to hand-held panels about muscles and to record repetitions. In the UK, these include commercial brands such as Kegel toners, Aquaflex, TensCare, Elvie, Pelvic Toner and LadySystem (but there are probably many more available). The prices range from about £10 to over £170 but some of the latest brands may cost even more.
Are these appliances any good?
There are various reviews online for a number of commercial devices that suggest women have found them to be helpful and to improve the function of the pelvic floor. These are probably provided in good faith but a degree of scepticism might be needed to avoid disappointment if they don’t work for you.
Although the appliances may work well for some, the modern approach to PF exercise we have outlined in our ‘The traditional and the modern approach to pelvic floor exercises’ article recognises that it is possible to overwork some pelvic floor muscles which then become too tight and short to function efficiently. So although these devices may make muscles contract and strengthen, they may not be able to discriminate to find which muscles need to relax and which need to work harder to bring the whole pelvic floor area into balance. No two pelvic floors are likely to function in an identical fashion and it is not clear from the brands we looked at that they can adapt to the specific muscle issues of each user. Some of the brands on offer are more sophisticated than others and may have sensors to detect which pelvic floor muscles are too relaxed and which overworked and weak, but this wasn’t clear from the descriptions we viewed online.
It may be better (for your health and purse) to look for a practitioner who has the experience and training to assess your pelvic floor and adapt their knowledge to help you to address your specific needs. Certainly, if you are experiencing incontinence, you probably won’t want to trust your pelvic floor to a device that may not be able to make any improvements or could potentially make your pelvic floor function less reliable!
If you have asked for a referral to a specialist women’s health physio, it is worth asking them for their opinion of these appliances. Some physios do not believe the appliances are helpful and some suggest that they are not used in combination with physio treatment sessions in case one approach interferes with the other.