18th Jul 2022
Lizzie Gore-Grimes trials the new Emsella chair – a groundbreaking treatment for pelvic floor weakness – and finds herself jumping for joy with the result.
I went to my Headon boxing class last night and can’t tell you how great it felt to join in the dreaded jumping jacks and high knees without feeling it was all going to end in tears – or more specifically, another form of embarrassing waterworks, further south.
Stress incontinence, unfortunately, is very common in women over 40, and even more so if you have had one or more vaginal births. Thanks to both the hormonal and physical effects of pregnancy and childbirth, the sphincter and pelvic muscles take a battering, which means that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from involuntary leakage.
The use of the word “stress” here refers to a physical rather than emotional trigger, so fairly everyday actions like coughing, sneezing, laughing… or doing jumping jacks can cause upset. Stress incontinence is not confined to women who have given birth, though; it is also another delightful side-effect of menopause. As oestrogen levels drop, the urethra and pelvic floor area weaken. The joys of being a woman truly never end.
For me, I definitely noticed a decline after my third baby was born (at 36) – it didn’t take long to discover that my trampolining days were behind me, but I was still okay to laugh and cough with (fairly) gay abandon. With my 45th birthday behind me, however, things began to deteriorate.
So when I heard about Emsella, a new non-invasive treatment on offer to combat this exact issue, I jumped – carefully – at the chance to try it.
“The Emsella chair uses HIFEM (high-intensity focused electromagnetic) frequencies to stimulate the pelvic floor muscles, causing them to contract and release, in the same way as standard Kegel exercises do,” explains former nurse, now CEO of River Medical, Aisling Cleary, as I sit down (fully clothed) on what to all intents and purposes looks like a large blue and white plastic toilet- meets-bucket-chair.
Most women, whether they’ve had babies or not, are familiar with Kegels (the exercise where you try to contract the internal muscles you would use to stop doing a pee), but they’re easier said than done, and in truth, I remember when I tried to do them, I got bored and ran out of interest after number five or six. Hence, the sorry state of my pelvic floor ten years later, clearly.
“A lot of the women I meet tell me they struggle to know if they are even doing a Kegel correctly when they try,” continues Aisling, “and they can’t do many of them. This is where the Emsella chair comes in – as one 28-minute session on the chair is equivalent to no less than 11,000 Kegels.”
Once Aisling programmes the machine for me, she leaves, and the armrests of the chair glow with LED light, Captain Kirk style, things start to hum and I’m dying to know what this thing is going to feel like. Will it tickle? Be painful? Set me off on a When Harry Met Sally diner scene moment?
None of the above, it turns out. What starts as a gentle rhythmic tapping sensation, alternates between undulating waves of very targeted pelvic area contractions and shorter, more staccato rhythms. “The waves pulsate in different patterns throughout the 28-minute session,” Aisling explained earlier, “in order to give the muscles a well- rounded workout.”
It does feel strange at first, and the current feels strong, but not uncomfortable. You don’t leap off the seat while it’s going, but on the day I arrived wearing my gym leggings, I did enjoy watching my thighs bounce gently a few millimetres off the chair seat with each contraction.
Six sessions, done twice weekly, is the recommended approach, but Aisling explains that some clients need more and some less. “We allow the course of treatment to be dictated by each client’s result rather than a set number of sessions.” After six sessions, I have certainly noticed a huge improvement. I now have a care-free spring in my step, with no embarrassing side-effect.
A course of six Emsella treatments usually costs €2,000, on special offer of €1,799 with River Medical. Patients can avail of a consultation with the team of nurse specialists by booking online at Rivermedical.ie or calling (01) 662 9106. rivermedical.ie.
This article originally appeared in the Spring issue of IMAGE Magazine.
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