Vibration therapy is often associated with fitness and physical therapy. However, did you know that it also has applications for the pelvic floor?
We're breaking down the latest research on pelvic floor muscle (PFM) strength to find out exactly how this information could potentially change women's lives for the better. Electric stimulation is sometimes used along with vibration therapy to treat a range of nerve and muscle issues.
But, how do you know if you should explore e-stim or vibration therapy? Before we dive in deeper, let's take a minute to clarify some terms.
What is vibration therapy?
Vibration therapy, sometimes called vibratory stimulus, can be used to reduce pain and strengthen muscles.
Generally, there are two types of vibration therapy—localized and whole-body. As its name suggests, whole-body uses a vibration therapy machine to transmit energy all over the body.
You usually do whole-body vibration therapy with a physician or physical therapist that will instruct you to sit, stand, squat, or lie down on the machine.
Localized vibration therapy targets a specific region of the body. Vibrations are delivered through a handheld device. For example, the vFit is a form of localized vibration therapy that targets the pelvic floor muscles.
How does vibration therapy work?
Vibration therapy transmits gentle vibrations to your body to stimulate muscles. The vibrations cause your muscles to contract and relax many times in a few minutes, which can help improve blood flow, strengthen muscles, and decrease soreness.
The effectiveness of vibration therapy depends on a number of factors, including the intensity and direction of vibrations. You’ll also want to use the vibration machine between 10 to 15 minutes about three times a week.
What is electric stimulus?
Electric stimulation (ES), or 'e-stim', is similar to vibration therapy, and in some cases, it is used in conjunction with it. The difference is that e-stim uses electrical pulses instead of vibrations to target nerves or muscles.
There are also different types of e-stim, but the two most common are transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) and electrical muscle stimulation (EMS).
When used for pain relief, e-stim targets nerves. Electrical muscle stimulation focuses on contracting the muscles to improve their strength.
How does e-stim work?
E-stimulation works because it triggers nerve fiber activation and the release of acetylcholine, one of the essential neurotransmitters involved in muscle contraction. For this reason, e-stim is also commonly used in muscle rehabilitation to help reduce pain and promote healing.
For e-stim to be most effective, studies recommend at least 30 minutes a day.
Benefits of vibration therapy and e-stim
We’ll primarily dive into how vibration therapy and electrical stimulation are used for the pelvic floor. However, there are other applications for the two therapies.
Vibration therapy and e-stim may help to:
- Increase muscle strength—including the pelvic floor
- Improve blood flow and circulation
- Help with muscle rehabilitation and flexibility
- Reduce muscle pain
- Increase bone density
- Promote physical activity that can help with anxiety
Recent studies have shown that vibration therapy and e-stim may improve pelvic floor muscle strength, both in healthy young women and in women with stress urinary incontinence.
With this promising new science, researchers have been studying the possible applications of vibration therapy devices. Which type of therapy was most effective for improving pelvic floor strength: electric or vibratory stimulation?
Vibration Therapy and E-stim—Can They Strengthen the Pelvic Floor?
Over time, the pelvic floor can weaken. Women usually experience this after childbirth or menopause. Additionally, we’re not used to exercising genital muscles in the same way that we would, for example, build arm muscles. However, it is possible to strengthen these muscles and improve functions.
Vibration therapy devices can make that easier to do.
Two recent studies suggest that vibration therapy and e-stim could help with a range of women’s health issues, specifically when it comes to the pelvic floor.
Pelvic floor dysfunction
One study compared intravaginal vibratory stimulus (IVVS) to an intravaginal electrical stimulation (IVES). The researchers’ goal was to see which option delivered the best results for treating pelvic floor dysfunctions in women.
Of the women who participated in the study, 76.2% were menopausal. All participants had some type of urinary incontinence, with prolapse urinary incontinence being the main complaint. The participants were randomized to receive a once-weekly 20-minute session of IVVS or IVES for six weeks.
So, what did they find? Both methods appeared to be beneficial to the study participant’s health. However, intravaginal vibratory stimulus (IVVS) was more effective in strengthening pelvic floor muscles.
Another team of researchers reviewed how vibrators can help with women’s sexual health and urinary issues. Vibration devices may get a negative connotation, but they are having positive impacts on women’s health.
Based on the researchers’ findings, vibrators could help improve symptoms for women with pelvic floor dysfunction, a condition in which you can’t contract your pelvic floor muscles. This inability to contract and relax can cause bladder leakage, constipation, and a number of other issues.
Their findings noted that vibration therapy could have a range of benefits for women's health, such as:
- Improved pelvic muscle strength
- Reliever urinary symptoms
- Decreased pain
- Improved sexual function and enjoyment
Although more studies are needed to explore the applications of vibration therapy, for women experiencing these issues, the initial results are promising. As with any treatment, talk to your doctor. They’ll help you determine if vibration therapy or e-stim could be an effective option to help with pelvic floor dysfunction, pain relief, sexual health, or other issues you may be experiencing.