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Biofeedback & Bowel Disorders: Teaching Yourself to Live Without the Problem

What is biofeedback?

Biofeedback is a neuromuscular reeducation tool therapists can use to tell if certain processes in our bodies are working correctly. It is a painless process that uses a computer and a video monitor to display bodily functions of which we are usually unaware. Special sensors measure these functions, which are displayed as sounds we can hear, or as line-graphs we can see on a computer screen. In this way, we receive information (feedback) on how our bodies work.

The therapist helps us to use this displayed information to modify or change abnormal responses to more normal patterns. That may mean increasing a response, decreasing a response, or learning to coordinate two responses more effectively.

How can biofeedback help?

Bowel control is a bodily function that can be shaped by biofeedback. Bowel control is something most of us master in our early childhood years. Once control is established, we think very little about these processes. That is, until something goes wrong.

Disease, trauma, or age-related changes in the body may interrupt our ability to command this crucial body function. Biofeedback techniques help us reestablish these learned patterns. The technology allows us to retrain defective processes, and to restore more normal function.

Does biofeedback work for everyone?

Biofeedback and home strengthening exercises are non-surgical, non-invasive therapy options that have been shown to reduce symptoms in many of people. Participating in this therapy can help restore a sense of personal control. However, the benefits of biofeedback vary from person to person.

What disorders may be treated by biofeedback?

Biofeedback therapy may be used to treat several bowel disorders such as incontinence, constipation, and painful spasms of the pelvic floor muscles.

When should biofeedback therapy be used?

It is important to consult a qualified physician when considering treatment options. One or more of a variety of diagnostic tests may be necessary. Before treating for incontinence, a thorough assessment of the muscles and nerves in the pelvic floor should be carried out.

In order to implement a neuromuscular reeducation program that best fits one’s needs, detailed information relating to his or her symptoms needs to be given to the physician and therapist. Once an evaluation has been made, the correct treatment option can be implemented.

Who administers this therapy?

Biofeedback may be administered by a well-trained and qualified physician, nurse, or physical or occupational therapist. However it is not available in all medical centers.

How long does this therapy last?

Therapy sessions may vary in number and length. A person with a non-neurological problem may require an average of six to eight treatment sessions over a three-month period. Treatment sessions may be scheduled weekly and decrease in frequency as improvements occur.

Home practice is the key to improvement. It is important to take what is learned in therapy sessions and apply these same exercises and strategies at home. Repetition of the correct patterns and application of these patterns to everyday situations is critical to reestablishing bowel control.

Research done at the National Institutes of Health shows that significant symptom reduction is possible with this type of therapy. Biofeedback offers an important treatment alternative for people affected by bowel disorders.

Want to learn more?

Visit our You and Constipation website to learn more about biofeedback and pelvic floor disorders

biofeedback treatment

Adapted from IFFGD Publication: Biofeedback & Bowel Disorders: Teaching Yourself to Live without the Problem by Mary K. Plummer, OTR/L, BCIA-PMDB and Jeannette Tries, PhD, OTR, Director Center for Continence & Pelvic Floor Disorders, Aurora Women’s Pavilion, West Allis, WI.

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IFFGD is a nonprofit education and research organization. Our mission is to inform, assist, and support people affected by gastrointestinal disorders.

Our original content is authored specifically for IFFGD readers, in response to your questions and concerns.

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