Pressure Biofeedback Stabilizer

Pressure Biofeedback Stabilizer

So, what’s all the fuss about getting your transversus abdominis contraction right?  A correct transversus abdominis contraction gives you dynamic stability.  That means your core (and your spine) is stable during dynamic movements.  That helps you to function better and with greater ease, it helps you perform better athletically, and it helps you to prevent injuries.

If you do the contraction incorrectly, you’ll fall into substitution patterns and use your oblique muscles, which are your outer abdominal muscles, to do the job of the transversus abdominis.  Since the obliques were designed to move the spine and the transversus abdominis was designed to stabilize the spine, substituting doesn’t work out in the long run.

How do you know if you’re getting the contraction right?

In the clinic we have some tools to check your transversus abdominis contraction, and one of the best that’s often used in research is using a diagnostic ultrasound (AKA a sonogram) to look at the muscle and watch it contracting.  Unless you have tens of thousands of dollars burning a hole in your pocket and the skills to interpret diagnostic ultrasound images, that’s not practical at home.

Another option is to turn the equation around and find out if you’re able to maintain dynamic stability by firing your transversus abdominis correctly.  One way to do that is by using a pressure biofeedback stabilizer.  Don’t let the name scare you.

A pressure biofeedback stabilizer is essentially a re-engineered blood pressure cuff.  The pump and gauge can be held with one hand so you can easily view the gauge and pump the device.  Instead of a single chamber cuff, the pressure biofeedback stabilizer has 3 chambers, presumably to be more accurate and responsive to changes in pressure throughout the cuff instead of just the total volume.  The kind I own is the Chattanooga Pressure Biofeedback Stabilizer, and it runs at about $40 on Amazon.

Here’s how to use it:

When I use my pressure biofeedback stabilizer during my core drill exercises, I find that it really helps keep me honest.  I have the tendency to whip through my exercises because (and I’m sure you can totally relate) I have so many things to do every day.  When I don’t use the stabilizer, though, there’s such a marked difference in how the exercises feel that I think it’s safe to say that I’m sometimes at risk for wasting time by doing the exercises without it, especially when I’m pressed for time.

Here’s what the research says:

The latest research on the pressure biofeedback stabilizer showed that when the pressure increases more than of 0-2mmHg during exercises or one tick mark on the stabilizer, it’s likely you’re substituting with your obliques.(Park 2013) To keep from substituting, definitely try to stay within one tick mark either above 40 or below 40, but not both, during the whole exercise.

You can use a regular blood pressure cuff (they typically cost about $10 on Amazon), but I’ve tried both and the blood pressure cuff is a little trickier to use since the pump and gauge aren’t positioned together, and with the single chamber cuff it’s a little trickier to keep the needle within 2mmHg.  Also, the research that showed you need to stay within 0-2mmHg didn’t include results from a regular blood pressure cuff, just the 3-chamber kind.  A regular blood pressure cuff can give you a good idea of how you’re doing, and it will work in a pinch, but I always reach for my pressure biofeedback stabilizer, not my blood pressure cuff to do my exercises.

1. Park D-J, Lee S-K. What is a Suitable Pressure for the Abdominal Drawing-in Maneuver in the Supine Position Using a Pressure Biofeedback Unit? Journal of Physical Therapy Science. 2013;25(5):527-530. doi:10.1589/jpts.25.527.
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