By: Fiona McMahon, DPT
Hey Ladies!!! In our next installment of our Pelvic Health 101 course, we are hosting a women’s only session to allow for a safe and non-threatening place to discuss many issues that can affect the health of your pelvic floor. This class one of Stephanie Stamas’s (the founder of PH101’s ) favorites and is definitely not to be missed. Join us at 7pm on April 20th, 2017 Please register at pelvichealth-101.eventbrite.com.
Pelvic Health 101 is back with some old favorites like, “Something’s wrong with my what?” and “Why is pooping so difficult?” We have also added a new course on pediatric pelvic floor issues.
If you have questions, we have answers. Join us for lectures and question and answer opportunities with expert pelvic health physical therapists, childbirth educators, and nutritionists. Please reserve your spot early at pelvichealth-101.eventbrite.com. Remember spots fill up quickly. As always, light refreshments will be served.
In June, my colleague Ryanne and I had the opportunity to attend the American Physical Therapy Association’s Gynecological Visceral Manipulation Course, taught by Gail Wetzler, PT, DPT, EDO, BI-D.
Gail is well known for her visceral (organ) mobilization skills and teaching worldwide with Jeanne-Pierre Barral of the Barral Institute. She is a leader in the physical therapy field and in education for women’s health, manual diagnostics, visceral structures and disorders, and integrative therapies for animal health. She is dedicated to techniques to help balance the body’s systems for optimal function. Gail is considered an excellent and sought-after instructor in advanced manual therapy techniques for PTs.
In class, we learned how to assess the biomechanics and mobility of the pelvic organs (including reproductive organs, the urinary system, and the rectum). We learned treatment techniques for these structures, and how to integrate these findings and techniques into PT treatment for injuries and disorders affecting posture, core stability, spinal mechanics, and overall movement. Having these skills helps the PT to more successfully and specifically treat pelvic conditions that affect bowel, bladder, reproductive and sexual function. It takes hard work and practice to develop the sensitivity to feel the organs and their potential restrictions, and the PTs at Beyond Basics have all taken advanced training to enhance this skill because of its importance for our specialty in returning patients to good bowel, bladder, and sexual health and reducing pelvic pain.
We did a detailed anatomy review and excellent hands-on time with lab partners to refine these techniques for our own individual practice! Did you know: neighboring structures “talk” to each other within the body? For example: the liver is a large organ located within the parietal peritoneum. This peritoneum is a membrane (a thin covering) that wraps around the liver and many other organs in the abdomen. It travels just next to, but does not enclose, the pelvic organs. This membrane becomes neighbors with the bladder, uterus, and rectum. If the liver is damaged, injured or restricted, the peritoneum membrane enclosing it can tighten in response, kind of like how your arm muscles might tighten up or spasm to help protect you after a shoulder dislocation. But since the peritoneum is also neighbors with the pelvic organs, this tight restriction at the liver can also result in tension all the way down to the bladder, uterus, or rectum, contributing to urinary or bowel dysfunction or pain! So it may be possible that assessing and treating these lines of tension can help get rid of lingering pain or incontinence, and is a great example of how structures near or even far from the original site of dysfunction can be involved.
So what is a PT really treating when they do “visceral manipulation”? Good question. PTs do not take the place of physicians who specialize in organ function and hormones, like urologists, colorectal, GI or Endocrinologists. But PTs can influence the mobility and positioning of the organs in the abdominal and pelvic cavities, so that they can move and glide as you bend over, run, poop, pee and ovulate, and to reduce inflammation from injuries, or adhesions like scar tissue from surgery. This can be a very valuable treatment option to promote better organ function for digestion, bowel, bladder, sexual and reproductive health.
For a while you could find me strolling around the clinic with a little fitness tracker on my wrist. I used it to track my steps, sleep, and heart rate. I’m a girl who loves gadgets and apps. From Venmo to Spotify, technology enriches my life and makes it easier. So when Elvie sent their kegel trainer to Beyond Basics, I jumped at the chance to volunteer myself guinea pig, to try out this new fitness tracker.
Unboxing, Aesthetics, and Set Up
Man, oh man is the product design gorgeous on this one. It comes in a beautiful silver embossed box with the tagline “ your most personal trainer” ( wink, wink, nudge, nudge). Inside there is an inch diameter cylinder “vessel” for lack of a better term, which houses the Elvie tracker. The vessel functions as both a carrying case and a charger. It’s pretty slick looking.
The Elvie itself looks like a little tadpole with a tail. It’s about an inch long and half an inch in diameter not counting its little tail. There is also an optional cover provided in the box, which may be more comfortable for some ladies.
The whole set up: The tracker had the feel of opening an iphone, in that the directions provided in the tracker were kept pretty minimal. There was a small pamphlet with cleaning instructions, on charging, how to insert, and exercise. As a pelvic floor physical therapist, I definitely felt that the instructions on how to properly kegel left a lot to be desired. The instructions were literally two bullet points instructing the user not to hold her breath or tighten her buttocks, while she lifts her “pelvic floor”. For many of my patients, I find that they come to me with little knowledge of how to properly kegel or are doing it wrong, “lift the pelvic floor” is rarely a cue that allows for a fully correct kegel.
My next step was to download the Elvie app. I have an iPhone 6. You need a smartphone to run the elvie. They recommend iPhone 5 or later or Android phones running version 4.3 or later. The app download was easy. It was time to get started.
Elvie: Day 1
The moment of truth had arrived. Time to insert one of the cuter inanimate objects I had come accross “up there”. “Bye, little guy. Safe travels” I thought as I bid Elvie adieu. Insertion was no problem. For me, it was pretty comfortable, the caveat being, I have a pretty healthy pelvic floor. The one thing I did not like was that Elvie’s tail kept bopping me in the clitoris, which wasn’t very comfortable. Other than that no complaints.
The first thing I did was try and trick Elvie into thinking I was kegeling when I wasn’t (I really want to ensure this thing is fool proof). Elvie is unfortunately a gullible little thing. Bulging my pelvic floor, ( mimicking the action you would do to have a bowel movement, essentially the opposite of a kegel) and thrusting my hips tricked Elvie into thinking I was doing a really good job when I wasn’t. My favorite activity to trick Elvie was to do a little dance around my bedroom, while wiggling my bottom. Thank goodness my doors lock.
But enough goofing off, it was time to give Elvie a good old honest college try. The package recommends either standing or lying to do your kegel exercises, but they say to pick a position and stick with it. I chose lying down.
The minute I got on the bed, Elvie’s connection was lost. Poor Elvie! It was deep inside a strange place with no connection to the outside world. The app instructed me to move my phone closer to my vagina, which restored the connection but was pretty awkward, kind of like my lady parts were trying to facetime someone.
Once I got through the technical difficulties, I loved the way the exercise program was set up. They have 3 different stages that work on pulsing or “quick flicks”, endurance, and pure power. I was mediocre at all three, but it gave me a good start to go with.
Elvie Day 2:
Today was the day I decided to experiment with how distracted one can be while using Elvie. We all like to multitask, so I decided to try it out while continuing my current Netflix binge. It was a bad idea, I missed a lot of my targets and kept forgetting to keep my legs open to allow Elvie to stay connected. It was clear to me that Elvie requires your full attention to get any benefit from it. I did improve on my ability to pulse and my endurance, which was super gratifying.
After I was done with my workout I spent some time exploring the app. Nestled in the “help” section, were much more detailed and helpful directions for performing a correct pelvic floor contraction. I wish this was more easily accessible. I think the lack of concise directions was a major failing of this product.
Elvie Day 3:
I decided this would be my last day using Elvie. I run on the tighter side of things, and I know from my clinical experience that doing kegels on an already tight pelvic floor can cause a whole host of issues from constipation, fecal leakage, painful sex, even urgency urinary incontinence!
I decided to give my all out full attention to the vagina workout ahead of me, but first I would try and cheat again. Lying down I tried my old tricks, wiggling my butt, thrusting my hips, but Elvie was not fooled! It appears that lying on your back is a way better way to train your pelvic floor using Elvie.
My last day, I really had the hang of things. I had no connectivity issues and was able to complete the whole workout uninterrupted. The only bummer was that on two of the three measures, I regressed!
Thoughts on Elvie
My thoughts on this device are mixed. It is so rare that I see someone walk into the clinic only needing strengthening of the pelvic floor. Usually there is some component of tightness or boney (structural) malalignment that needs to be corrected before kegels can be done effectively or safely.
For those patients who only require strengthening, I think Elvie can make an excellent motivator to regularly do your kegel exercises. I would eliminate the pure power part of the Elvie exercise program. Doing a max contraction of the pelvic floor usually does more harm than good. In a perfect scenario, I see Elvie being used by patients under the guidance of a pelvic floor physical therapist and only doing the “pulse” and “hold” portions of the program. These are patients who have been screened for any tightness or trigger points that may need treatment before starting out with strengthening
Pros and Cons of Elvie
Not appropriate for everyone
Poor connectivity to iphone
Not always consistent in measuring a true kegel versus a fake one, especially in standing
Requires a later model smart phone
Only brief instructions easily accessible
Max contraction not very helpful
Charts on the App to track your progress
Incredibly adorable product design
Much more comfortable than many other biofeedback sensors
Structured training program to target many components of muscle function
Pro Tips for Elvie
Use Elvie lying down; it’s way more accurate that way
Use a water based lube for insertion, silicone lubricants usually don’t mix with instruments designed to go into the vagina
If you have pain, Elvie is definitely not for you. Even if you don’t have pain it is wise to consult with a pelvic floor physical therapist to ensure that your muscles are not in fact, too tight and that you are doing the exercise correctly.
Disclaimer: Product was provided by Elvie. No other form of compensation was provided by Elvie for this review.