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New research finds no evidence that expensive biofeedback devices used in the treatment of urinary incontinence in women make any difference

Expensive biofeedback devices used in the treatment of urinary incontinence in women make no difference, reveals an NIHR-funded trial published in the BMJ.

Biofeedback therapy has been used as a way to enhance the effectiveness of pelvic floor muscle exercises by helping patients see they are exercising their muscles correctly and encouraging them to do them more often. The cost of the biofeedback devices can range from £100 to £500.

However, scientists at Glasgow Caledonian University, have found that the devices make no difference to the effectiveness of pelvic floor muscle exercises.

The five-year study involving 600 women with stress or mixed urinary incontinence from all over the UK was launched to find out if pelvic floor muscle training (PFMT) plus electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback was more effective for female urinary incontinence than PFMT alone.

Scientists studied the women over 24-months after they were randomised to receive six PFMT appointments with EMG biofeedback used in clinic and at home, or six PFMT appointments alone. They found no evidence of a difference in incontinence severity between the biofeedback PFMT and PFMT groups. The study concluded: “We found no benefit of including EMG biofeedback as part of a PFMT programme when compared to PFMT alone. Results indicated similar incontinence severity at 24-month follow-up in both groups.”

Researchers say the finding could lead to cost savings. The study’s lead author Professor Suzanne Hagen, who is also Deputy Director of the Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit (NMAHP RU), added: “A good, supervised programme of pelvic floor muscle exercises on its own is enough to significantly improve women’s incontinence”.

Researchers from the universities of Stirling, Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Exeter and Otago in New Zealand, as well as NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and NHS Ayrshire and Arran were also involved in the study.

The trial was funded by the NIHR’s Health Technology Assessment (HTA) Programme 

More information on the study is available on the NIHR Funding and Awards website.