The ads are out there, and they are tempting. Can wearing a “smart shorts” Innovo device really fix my incontinence in just 12 weeks? Or some other products like Elitone include external devices that you put in your underwear—they promise results in 6 weeks. And the best part is that these devices tell you that you can just “go about your day” and let them do the work!
I’ve seen ads for products like this—how do they work?
These types of products rely upon a technology called neuromuscular electric stimulation (NMES). This is something that has been around for years in the physical therapy and rehabilitation worlds, and can be very effective at getting weak muscles to work better. However, unlike other muscles in the body, the pelvic floor muscles are seated very deep inside the pelvis. So there are two main ways to stimulate those muscles—internally with an intra-vaginal or intra-rectal electrode, or externally with small electrode pads. These devices like Innovo and Elitone rely upon external stimulation, which means of course they are not just stimulating your pelvic floor! They are also stimulating other external muscles in your pelvis and hips as a means of getting your pelvic floor to work better.
So is this making me do a Kegel?
Yes and no. Yes these devices do cause your pelvic floor to contact, which is also known as a Kegel contraction. So they ARE targeting the right muscles. However, they are also contracting other muscles in the pelvis too—like the glutes in the case of the Innovo shorts. The problem with this is that now your brain may associate activation of the glutes or other hip muscles with a Kegel, when all we really want is a pelvic floor contraction. Most people already have trouble with this—so anything that doesn’t encourage isolation of the pelvic floor can eventually be problematic.
But don’t they have evidence behind their products showing that they work?
Yes. So the good part about these shorts and similar devices is that they do seem to actually help with incontinence based on research done by the manufacturers. However, these studies are all funded by that product’s company, and most of them don’t follow their participants for more than 6-12 weeks. Plus in Innovo’s own research study, it shows that while their product did achieve good results, it was NOT better than traditional intra-vaginal electric simtulation. Elitone’s main study that proves their device works was only done on 20 women.
Do these devices work for all kinds of incontinence?
No. And that is something that is not well-advertised in my opinion. These devices are ONLY tested upon women with stress incontinence. That means leaking with coughing, sneezing, laughing, etc. So they will not necessarily help if you have leaking upon the way to the bathroom, or leaking that you are unaware of when it occurs. Plus, Elitone’s research was only completed upon those with “mild to moderate” stress incontinence. So the results may not be generalizable to everyone.
Does everyone who leaks need pelvic floor strengthening?
Definitely not! Some women are leaking because there is actually TOO much tension in their pelvic floor. So, using a device to further increase tension and muscle tone would actually be counterproductive. The only way you would know if you need to strengthen or relax your pelvic floor would be to get an evaluation from a pelvic floor physical therapist.
How much do these devices cost?
The Innovo “Kit” is $449.95. Elitone’s “starter kit” is $399 and their “bundle” is $503. However, you can use FSA/HSA money to pay for these if that is something that is available to you.
So will these devices help me or not??
They may! If you have stress urinary incontinence, particularly if it is mild to moderate, you may see some results with using these devices. However, here’s what they are NOT doing:
- Teaching you how to isolate your pelvic floor
- Instructing you how to use your pelvic floor during everyday tasks where it is most-needed (like lifting heavy objects, while coughing/sneezing, etc)
- Monitoring whether or not you are holding your breath with contractions
- Showing you how to correct your pelvic position for optimal function of your pelvic floor
- Teaching you how to coordinate your pelvic floor with your deep abdominals (important!)
So the bottom line is: like anything, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. These devices may have some use for people who don’t have access to a pelvic floor physical therapist, or who can’t tolerate intra-vaginal NMES for whatever reason. But, most people with incontinence don’t necessarily need any NMES regardless; it is more-useful for people who don’t do well with traditional physical therapy and Kegels.
How can MommaStrong help?
MommaStrong can help even more than these devices can and at a much lower price point! With MommaStrong you learn everything you need to know about how to fix incontinence. This includes how to breathe properly, how to correct your posture, how to properly activate your deep abdominals and glutes, how and when to apply a proper pelvic floor contraction to daily activities, and much more.