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Electrical muscle stimulation (STIMS) for pelvic floor muscle weakness and incontinence

Electrical muscle stimulation (STIMS) for pelvic floor muscle weakness and incontinence

What is electrical muscle stimulation?

Electrical muscle stimulation can be used to assist in strengthening very weak pelvic floor muscles as well as in the treatment of urge urinary incontinence. This is achieved by stimulating a passive contraction of the pelvic floor muscles through the transmission of low grade electrical impulses to the nerves that supply these muscles, as well as the bladder and bowel.  This stimulation works to heighten the patient’s perception and awareness of the pelvic muscle activity. The small electrical impulses are delivered to the pelvic structures through an internal vaginal or anal electrode. These impulses are not painful but could take a couple of sessions to get used to the sensation.

When can electrical muscle stimulation be useful?

  • Electrical muscle stimulation can be very successful in the treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction in both men and women.
  • It is most commonly indicated when the pelvic floor muscles are very weak or when there is little awareness of a pelvic floor muscle contraction. In this case, electrical stimulation is often recommended as the first step to a muscle retraining program.
  • Electrical stimulation is never used as a stand-alone treatment for pelvic floor dysfunction.
  • It will be used in combination with complementary physiotherapy-prescribed therapeutic strategies.

How long does it take to be effective?

  • It usually takes between 6-12 weeks to be effective.
  • During this period of time the device should be used 3 to 7 times per week.
  • Regular follow-up appointments will be useful to assess whether the electrical stimulation is effective.
  • This device does not need to be used long-term since research has shown that once you can perform an effective voluntary muscle contraction with moderate strength, transitioning to an independent unassisted pelvic floor strengthening program is sufficient for maintaining muscle strength.

If you are unable to activate your pelvic floor muscles, are unsure whether you are using these muscles in the correct way, or have tried doing these exercises to assist in the treatment of incontinence without much success, you may benefit from the use of electrical stimulation. Following a detailed assessment by a specialised Continence and Women’s Health physiotherapist, you will discuss whether this type of stimulation is an appropriate treatment option for you.

There are some instances where this treatment option may not be suitable and therefore an assessment by a Continence and Women’s Health physiotherapist is recommended prior to hiring or purchasing a machine. To make an appointment with a Mater Health and Wellness physiotherapist who specialises in the treatment of pelvic floor dysfunction, telephone us on  07 3163 6000.


SCHREINER, Lucas et al. Electrical Stimulation for Urinary Incontinence in Women: A Systematic Review. Int. braz j urol. [online]. 2013, vol.39, n.4, pp. 454-464.



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