Updated: Feb 11
It's no surprise that there would be an app - or many apps - for pelvic floor exercises. The potential market is humongous. Not just women with bladder issues, but women who don't want to develop bladder issues... which means pretty much every woman who owns a smartphone.
With a market that size, there's a quid to be made from selling an app, or marketing a free app with the advertising deals that make them money while making us curse ads when we use the app.
I just paid a visit to Google Play Apps and searched "pelvic floor training" - the first 60 or so were relevant apps, after that there started to be a lot of general exercise and, well, other things. Anatomy apps and erectile dysfunction apps. But then, there were still more 'kegel' or pelvic floor apps mixed in after that. A lot of them. And that's just one search term, and only on Google Play.
How do we find a good one?
Are the paid ones going to be better than the free ones?
These questions were on the minds of researchers from the Department Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of New Mexico (That's in Albuquerque, US). So they did what researchers do. They researched. Do keep in mind that their conclusions were published in 2019 but research and publication take time, while apps can rapidly come and go in the marketplace.
When experts look for Pelvic Floor apps on iTunes and Google Play, what do they find?
They found NINETY apps. If it was on both iTunes and Google Play, it only counted as one app. Like I said, there's a quid to be made in this market - and apparently 90 coders would like to make that quid. (Actually, more than 90 - they only counted apps available in English. Seems a bit exclusionist, but consider the expense of getting it translated so they could analyse it.)
A few of the apps were linked to biofeedback devices, which means they were intended only for people who bought those devices. Others were intended purely for pregnant women rather than for general pelvic floor training. The researchers wanted to look at apps meant for the broader population, so they dropped these 'specialty' apps off the list.
And then they dumped all the ones that didn't actually function. You know, apps that don't open, or continuously crash, or aren't compatible with any phone sold on Planet Earth. I would really like to share a list of those non-functioning apps, but I don't have it.
In the end they found themselves assessing 32 apps. Fifteen of them were paid apps and seventeen of them were free apps.
Was there any advantage to paying for a Pelvic Floor training app?
Paid apps had higher rates of privacy features than free apps. This sounds good, but is the rubber actually meeting the road? How often do people delve into their app settings and see what features are turned on or off, let alone what they actually do? I'm going to say this means the paid apps have the potential to have an advantage, but in practice it might make no difference to the user.
Another potential benefit of the paid apps was that on average they used more illustrations. It wasn't a huge degree of difference, and it was an average across the paid Vs free groups. So if you are choosing between apps, it might be a good idea to go scrolling through the descriptions to see how useful the sample images look.
Speaking of descriptions, the paid apps were more likely to cite primary literature in their descriptions. I like research, so that would appeal to me if I was app-shopping. But again, there were free apps that did the same.
Paid apps were also more likely to have tech support available - that's support for the app function, not for pelvic floor advice. It occurs to me that I've never called on tech support for an app. Either the developers release an update and it starts working properly again, or I stop using the app. Mind you, I've never paid much for an app, either.
Does that make paid Apps the winner?
It turns out that in spite of the above advantages, there was too wide a range of quality in both groups. There was great function in paid and free apps, and there was rubbish function in paid and free apps.
It seems that paying for a pelvic floor training app does not mean you will get a better app.
Under the scoring system the researchers used, the highest scoring free app was Kegel Trainer. The highest scoring paid app - you'll notice a similarity here - was Kegel Trainer Pro.
I haven't tested these apps myself, and I think it's only fair to acknowledge that sometimes a different scoring system will get a different result. But in this scoring system at least, those two apps beat out the competition. And they actually functioned, which puts them miles ahead of half the initial competition!
The study referred to in this article is "Evaluation of Smartphone Pelvic Floor Exercise Applications Using Standardized Scoring System" which was published in the journal Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery: July/August 2019 - Volume 25 - Issue 4 - p 328–335. (Subscription required to access full text.)
In light of this research, here are my further thoughts on apps for pelvic floor training:
Apps can be fun. Can't argue against fun, especially if it's free!
If using an app helps you remember your pelvic floor regularly, that's a good thing.
Health info in apps is not always reliable. It could be outdated or misinterpreted, and it could be just plain wrong. There aren't many pelvic floor specialists who are also app developers.
There are so many different ways to train a pelvic floor, and which way is 'right' depends on the pelvic floor being trained. So don't give up on your pelvic floor because an app didn't help you. You might just need some more personalised advice - and then you might be able to use the app again, knowing how to make it suit you.
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