Say Hello To The Vagina Gym Tone Your Muscles
Women are queueing up to use the ‘Kegel throne’. Victoria Woodhall takes a seat.
Prrrrp! There’s an unmissable thrum between me and the seat beneath me that feels like a cross between a Trimphone and a whoopee cushion.
What I’m sitting on has been nicknamed the “Kegel throne” and it’s an electromagnetic chair that could revolutionise everyday life for the millions of British women with issues caused by a weak pelvic floor.
POSTED OCTOBER 28, 2018
The Emsella chair, which is new to the UK, is zapping my nether regions with thousands of electric pulses. In one 28-minute session, I’m getting the equivalent of 11,000 pelvic floor contractions. All women are supposed to do these exercises themselves after childbirth, but let’s be honest, who even remembers what day it is when you have a newborn?
Dr Victoria Manning, who with her colleague Dr Charlotte Woodward runs an aesthetics practice specialising in women’s health, says that one in four women have bladder problems caused by a weak pelvic floor. “And the really sad thing is that about 75 per cent of those women never seek medical help because they are too embarrassed.”
The Emsella is a non-invasive therapy that doesn’t involve getting your lady-parts out for the doctor or inserting anything in them — Gwyneth Paltrow’s jade eggs can take a hike. You can do it fully clothed while you’re having a cup of Earl Grey and reading a book, although you can’t use your phone or laptop because the electromagnetic fields will scramble them. Nor can you use it if you have a copper coil or any metal in your body, such as a pacemaker or replacement joints.
Emsella is non-invasive
This month it arrived at the medical clinic of the smart London women’s club Grace Belgravia, where Manning and Woodward, both former GPs, have a residency. It’s the first in London (others are in Lincoln and Liverpool) and you don’t have to be a member of Grace to book. However, you do need a spare £2,000 for the course of six 28-minute sessions, taken every other day. They are said to improve muscle tone dramatically, with effects lasting as long as two years.
The studies into High-Intensity Focused Electromagnetic Technology (Hifem) specifically for the pelvic floor are in their infancy. A trial this year on 30 women with urinary incontinence (16 of whom used at least two pads a day) showed a 60 per cent improvement in their condition after six months.
The technology isn’t new, says Dr Tracey Sims, a practising GP and aesthetician who has successfully treated 30 women with the Emsella at her Intimate You clinic in Liverpool. “It has been used for some years by physiotherapists working with elite athletes to rehabilitate muscles after injuries. But it has never been used to target the pelvic floor before.” The pelvic floor is a large muscle that, among other things, supports the bladder, but comes under enormous strain in pregnancy and birth.
“Women were asking for help,” Dr Manning says. “Lots of our patients found it mortifying to put on an incontinence pad. Some women don’t exercise because they are too embarrassed about leaking. But once your pelvic floor muscle is functioning again, you can go for a run or jump up and down on a trampoline with your daughter without leaking, and that has a huge impact on women’s quality of life.”
While the course of treatments is by no means cheap, neither is a lifetime’s supply of Tena Lady pads, she points out.
In her 20 years as a GP, Dr Manning was frustrated at the limited options for treating urinary incontinence. “The first port of call would be referral to a physio for pelvic floor exercises, which would often involve quite a long wait. Then you’re left with surgery to lift the bladder neck or inserting tape or vaginal mesh [which was stopped this year because of safety concerns] and this can have worse outcomes than before surgery.”
95 per cent success rate
Dr Sims describes her own experience of the Emsella: “I found it difficult to run after my toddlers. I would avoid aerobics classes, anything where I had to jump or run for fear of leaking. We can improve women’s day-to-day experience with treatment and so far we’ve had a 95 per cent success rate.”
My own two pregnancies have left me more “hammock” than “drum”, but I’d never had a leak issue until a few months ago, ten years after my second child. Neglecting my 20-year vinyasa yoga routine (which involves activating the pelvic floor with a muscular “root lock” known as mula bandha) was undoubtedly a factor. But there’s age too. Hormonal changes in the run-up to menopause cause collagen to decline and so we lose extra support around the urethra. While the Emsella can’t help with collagen stimulation (for that there’s now vaginal radiofrequency and laser treatment) it can hold everything in a bit better, Dr Manning says.
Even after two sessions I noticed a difference. And while I don’t feel 26 down there, I no longer have to dash to the loo quite so quickly once my bladder decides it’s time to go. And the leaks have vanished.
While I’m sitting on the chair at Grace, several younger members of the clinic staff come by and chat because I’ve eschewed the privacy screen and the chair has generated much curiosity. A few have tried it and say they found it too uncomfortable.
“The reason it’s painful for them is that they haven’t had kids,” Dr Manning says. “If you are young and have an intact pelvic floor, it’s quite uncomfortable and you don’t need it. But what we need to do is destigmatise this. We shouldn’t be ashamed of it. It happens to one in four women and we should be proud that we are getting it treated.”