Heart Rate Variability for pelvic floor dysfunction

Our body is a finely integrated operating system consisting of the collective workings of many systems within.These systems do not work independently but inter-dependently of one another.

One such system is our Autonomic Nervous system (ANS) that regulates body systems on an unconscious level. Your blood pressure, blood sugar levels, adrenaline levels, digestion, heart rate and much more gets regulated without our conscious awareness during waking and sleeping times.

Basic Heart Rate Variability (HRV) measurements are the changes we see in time between successive heartbeats, inter-beat-intervals. (see below diagram)

With general wellness your mean heart rate has become an indicator of fitness and health predictor. With Heart Rate Variability (HRV) we have learned to look at fluctuations of the heartbeats that becomes evident when we respond to internal and external events on a moment to moment basis.

HRV measurements has shown to be indicative of the direct link to our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), giving us insights into our nervous systems response to stress and recovering ability. Our ANS consists of two main branches:

Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS)

SNS controls our “fight or flight” or ”freeze” response. It increases our Heart Rate when needed. The SNS role is to quickly activate the body to overcome short term stress situations and typically ignores long term health consequences.

Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS)

PNS is our “rest and digest” or recovery response. It decreases our Heart Rate when needed. The PNS is meant to help restoration in the body, conserve systems for the long term and is needed to grow faster, stronger, healthier.

FIGURE 1. A typical HRVB screen showing the transition from normal breathing to 7 breaths per minute breathing.

Our body is constantly adjusting to the environment by either “speeding up” or “slowing down” in order to maintain balance and homeostasis. When our autonomic nervous system gets “stuck” and either just speeds up and not slowing down when needed it has detrimental effect on our health.

In the Psychophysiological research field HRV originally focused on autonomic balance, advances in the medical field focused on HRV as the indicator of adaptability and Baroreflex sensitivity. Other work looked at the impact HRV has on vagus nerve activity in various disorders like asthma and pain management and anxiety disorders.

Biofeedback training allows accurate feedback mirroring what your heart is communicating to the rest of your nervous system, in time learning to gain better control over how your body reacts to the stress stimuli and building on your resilience to such stress stimuli. Combining HRV with other modalities like Psychotherapy, CBT and stress management strategies your client enables themselves to better self-regulate in day to day situations. HRV Biofeedback training teaches clients can realize multiple benefits including:

  • Reduction in anxiety
  • Reduced muscle tension
  • Improvement in general energy and mood
  • Clearer cognitive abilities
  • Calmness and faster reaction times
  • Enhanced cardiac health
  • Improved hormone balance
  • Improved immune system activity
  • Improve on recovery rate after intense physical training

Gevirtz (2013) recently reviewed all of the available literature on the outcomes of HRVB. He looked at the following application categories: IBS, cyclic recurrent abdominal pain, fibromyalgia, cardiac rehabilitation, hypertension, chronic muscle pain, and pregnancy induced hypertension, depression, anxiety, PTSD, insomnia, performance and so UCB more. While few areas have extensive support by way of controlled studies, the overall picture seems to be very promising for this intervention.