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MP 2.01.64 Biofeedback as a Treatment of Fecal Incontinence or Constipation

Medical Policy    
Original Policy Date
Last Review Status/Date
Reviewed with literature search/1:2015
  Return to Medical Policy Index


Our medical policies are designed for informational purposes only and are not an authorization, or an explanation of benefits, or a contract.  Receipt of benefits is subject to satisfaction of all terms and conditions of the coverage.  Medical technology is constantly changing, and we reserve the right to review and update our policies periodically. 


Biofeedback, a technique intended to teach patients self-regulation of certain physiologic processes not normally considered to be under voluntary control, is used to treat a variety of conditions and is proposed as a treatment of fecal incontinence and constipation.

Fecal incontinence in adults is the recurrent uncontrolled passage of fecal material. Pathophysiology of the disorder ranges from abnormalities in intestinal motility (diarrhea or constipation) to poor rectal compliance, impaired rectal sensation, or weak or damaged pelvic floor muscles. There is no increase in mortality attributable to fecal incontinence. Morbidity includes skin breakdown and urinary tract infections. Fecal incontinence may affect quality of life through restricting work, recreation, and activities related to “getting out of the house,” impaired social role function, diminished sexual activity, and increase of social isolation due to embarrassment. Fecal incontinence can bring about loss of independence and mobility. It is the second most common reason for elderly institutionalization. The most common causes of fecal incontinence in adults are obstetric trauma coupled with age-related degeneration, previous anorectal surgery, rectal prolapse, and perineal trauma. In many individuals, the condition is multifactorial, involving a combination of structural, physiological, and psychosocial factors. Conventional interventions to treat fecal incontinence include dietary recommendations (eg, fiber), bowel and toilet scheduling, and medications (eg, bulking or antidiarrheal agents).

Constipation refers to infrequent bowel movements and difficulty expelling stool during defecation. Primary constipation is generally categorized into 3 groups. The most common type is normal-transit constipation in which there is a normal rate of stool movement, but patients feel constipated and may complain of abdominal pain and/or bloating. In the second type, slow-transit constipation, stool moves more slowly through the colon and individuals often experience a limited urge to defecate. The third type, dyssynergic defecation, refers to a loss of ability to coordinate contractions of the pelvic floor muscles and to relax the anal sphincter during defecation. Patients often report an inability to defecate despite the urge to do so. There are also secondary causes of constipation such as the use of certain medications,
including opioids and psychoactive drugs; neurologic, endocrine, or metabolic disorders; structural abnormalities; and lifestyle factors. Conventional treatment includes dietary changes (ie, adequate fiber and fluid intake), use of supplemental bulking substances, exercises, and medications.

In children, most cases of fecal incontinence and constipation are functional, in which structural, endocrine, or metabolic diseases have been ruled out. Factors contributing to functional incontinence and constipation are fear and/or pain associated with large, hard stools. This leads to retentive posturing in approximately half the children with chronic constipation (ie, the avoidance of defecation by purposefully contracting the external anal sphincter, also termed anismus or paradoxical sphincter contraction). Customary or conventional medical intervention includes dietary changes, bowel and toilet scheduling, softening agents, and education. Behavioral interventions aim at restoring normal bowel habits through toilet training, reward and incentive contingency management programs, desensitization of phobia and fear, or skill-building and goal-setting techniques with home practice. Counseling and psychotherapy provide support to the child and address social and psychological problems.

Biofeedback training for fecal incontinence focuses on improving the ability to voluntarily contract the external anal sphincter and puborectalis muscles in response to rectal filling and to decrease delay in response to a sensation of distension. For constipation, the aim of biofeedback is to teach patients how to tighten and relax their external anal sphincter in order to pass bowel movements.

Biofeedback attempts to improve rectal sensory perception, strength, coordination, or some combination of these 3 components. Sensory training involves inducing intrarectal pressure using a balloon feedback device. A manometric balloon probe is inserted into the rectum, and the balloon is filled with air to produce a sensation of rectal filling. Strength training uses either anal canal pressure (manometric) or intra-anal electromyography (EMG) feedback of pelvic floor muscles (PFM). The purpose is to strengthen the force of the PFM contraction without including rectal distention. Some training increases endurance (duration of external anal sphincter contraction), as well as peak strength. Coordination training uses pressure feedback of intrarectal balloon distention using a water-perfused catheter or Schuster-type balloon probe and PFM contractions in a simultaneous feedback display. The purpose of coordination training is to synchronize the contraction of the external anal sphincter with relaxation of the internal anal sphincter.

Biofeedback techniques convert the physiologic measures from an intra-anal EMG sensor, anal manometric probe (measuring intra-anal pressure), or perianal surface EMG electrodes to either visual or audio display for feedback. Ultrasound has also been used to show patients’ contraction of the anal sphincter on a screen. Biofeedback training is done alone, or in combination with other behavioral therapies designed to teach relaxation. Training sessions are performed in a quiet, nonarousing environment.

Regulatory Status

A variety of biofeedback devices are cleared for marketing though FDA’s 510(k) marketing clearance process. These devices are designated by FDA as class II with special controls and are exempt from premarket notification requirements. FDA defines a biofeedback device as “an instrument that provides a visual or auditory signal corresponding to the status of 1 or more of a patient's physiological parameters (eg, brain alpha wave activity, muscle activity, skin temperature) so that the patient can control voluntarily these physiological parameters.”


Biofeedback for constipation in adults may be considered medically necessary for patients with dyssynergia-type constipation as demonstrated by meeting all 3 of the following criteria:

  1. Symptoms of functional constipation that meet ROME III criteria (see Policy Guidelines section).
  2. Objective physiologic evidence of pelvic floor dyssynergia (see Policy Guidelines section) demonstrated by inappropriate contraction of the pelvic floor muscles or less than 20% relaxation of basal resting sphincter pressure by manometry, imaging or EMG;
  3. Failed a 3-month trial of standard treatments for constipation including laxatives, dietary changes, and exercises (as many of the previous as are tolerated).

Biofeedback is considered investigational as a treatment of constipation in adults and children in all other situations.

Biofeedback is considered investigational as a treatment of fecal incontinence in adults and children.

Policy Guidelines

Rome III Diagnostic Criteria for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (

Rome III diagnostic criteria for functional constipation*

  1. Must include two or more of the following:
    1. Straining during at least 25% of defecations
    2. Lumpy or hard stools in at least 25% of defecations
    3. Sensation of incomplete evacuation for at least 25% of defecations
    4. Sensation of anorectal obstruction/blockage for at least 25% of defecations
    5. Manual maneuvers to facilitate at least 25% of defecations (e.g., digital evacuation, support of the pelvic floor)
    6. Fewer than three defecations per week
  2. Loose stools are rarely present without the use of laxatives
  3. Insufficient criteria for irritable bowel syndrome

* Criteria fulfilled for the last 3 months with symptom onset at least 6 months prior to diagnosis

Rome III diagnostic criterion for dyssynergic defecation:

Inappropriate contraction of the pelvic floor or less than 20% relaxation of basal resting sphincter pressure with adequate propulsive forces during attempted defecation

Guidance on biofeedback protocol

The recommended treatment course for patients with constipation who meet criteria is up to 6 biofeedback sessions over 3 months. This is consistent with the protocol used in key randomized trials showing benefit of biofeedback for selected patients.

Benefit Application

BlueCard/National Account Issues

State or federal mandates (e.g. FEP) may dictate that all FDA-approved devices, drugs or biologics may not be considered investigational and thus these devices may be assessed only on the basis of their medical necessity.

Biofeedback and biofeedback devices are specifically excluded under many benefit plans. In addition, biofeedback and biofeedback devices are considered behavioral training and education/training in nature, and such services are specifically excluded under many benefit plans.


This policy was originally created in 2003 and was updated regularly with searches of the MEDLINE database. Most recently, the literature was reviewed through December 15, 2014. Following is a summary of the key literature to date.

Assessment of efficacy for therapeutic interventions involves a determination of whether the intervention improves health outcomes. The optimal study design for a therapeutic intervention is a randomized controlled trial (RCT) that includes clinically relevant measures of health outcomes. Intermediate outcome measures, also known as surrogate outcome measures, may also be adequate if there is an established link between the intermediate outcome and true health outcomes. Nonrandomized comparative studies and uncontrolled studies can sometimes provide useful information on health outcomes but are prone to biases such as selection bias (eg, noncomparability of treatment groups) and observation bias (eg, the placebo effect).

Several specific methodologic difficulties exist in assessing biofeedback. For example, most interventions that include biofeedback are multimodal and include relaxation and behavioral instruction, which may have effects separate from those that may occur due to biofeedback. While studies may report a beneficial effect of multimodality treatment, without appropriate control conditions, it is impossible to isolate the specific contribution of biofeedback to the overall treatment effect. For example, relaxation, attention, or suggestion may account for the successful results that have been attributed to biofeedback. These are nonspecific therapeutic factors, some of which can be considered placebo effects. Moreover, it is important that studies demonstrate that biofeedback improves disease-related health outcomes, as opposed to potentially affecting only physiologic, intermediate outcomes, and that they address the durability of effects beyond the initial, short-term biofeedback training period.

The relevant clinical outcome for biofeedback as a treatment in incontinence should be an overall change in the patient’s symptoms. Reduction in episodes of fecal incontinence and increase in voluntary bowel movements are the primary clinical outcomes, and these are typically reported as the percentage of individuals cured or improved. Achieving normal defecation dynamics (eg, anal pressure, squeeze
pressure, sensory threshold, rectal inhibitory reflex, defecation dynamics) does not correspond with symptom relief (ie, clinical outcomes). Anorectal physiology measurements are a poor proxy for changes in clinical symptoms. Patient symptoms are usually assessed through diary, questionnaire, or interview (completed by the patient and, in the case of children, parents).

Fecal Incontinence

Does the Addition of Biofeedback to Standard Care Reduce Fecal Incontinence, Compared With Standard Care Alone?


Numerous RCTs on biofeedback treatment for fecal incontinence in adults have been published. There are also several systematic reviews of RCTs. In 2009, Enck et al identified 11 RCTs evaluating the efficacy of biofeedback therapy for fecal incontinence in adult populations.(1) Two RCTs were excluded, one because of the small sample size, and the other because it did not include an appropriate control group. The remaining 9 studies comprised 5 comparisons of different biofeedback modalities and 6 comparisons of electromyographic (EMG) biofeedback versus other types of therapy, mainly pelvic floor exercises. (Two studies had multiple treatment groups and were included in both categories.) The total number of patients included in the 9 studies was 540; sample sizes of individual studies ranged from 18 to 171. A meta-analysis of 5 studies did not find a significant difference in the efficacy of different types of biofeedback (pooled odds ratio [OR], 1.23; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.74 to 2.20; p=0.38). Similarly, a meta-analysis of studies comparing biofeedback with other therapies did not find a significant difference in efficacy (pooled OR=1.19; 95% CI, 0.69 to 2.05). The outcome measure used in the analysis was not specified and appeared to vary from study to study.

Other systematic reviews have addressed biofeedback alone and in combination with other interventions. A 2013 systematic review by Vonthein et al identified 13 RCTs on biofeedback, electrical stimulation, or their combination for treatment of fecal incontinence.(2) Ten trials included comparisons of biofeedback and an alternative treatment; some of the biofeedback interventions also involved other components such as sensory training and pelvic floor exercises. A meta-analysis of studies comparing biofeedback to a control intervention significantly favored biofeedback (relative risk, 2.12; 95% CI, 1.42 to 3.16). This study did not attempt to isolate the effect of biofeedback in multicomponent interventions that included pelvic floor exercise or other treatments. A 2012 Cochrane review identified 21 RCTs evaluating biofeedback and/or sphincter exercises for treating fecal incontinence in adults.(3) Most studies used multifaceted interventions, eg, biofeedback, education, sphincter exercise. Additionally, a wide variety of control interventions were used. Three trials compared biofeedback plus sphincter exercises to sphincter exercises alone, and 1 trial compared biofeedback plus 1 type of exercise to biofeedback plus another type of exercise. The authors did not pool study findings due to heterogeneity among trials.

Representative RCTs follow.

In 2009, Heymen et al randomly assigned 168 individuals with fecal incontinence to 3 months of biweekly pelvic floor exercise training alone (n=85) or exercise training with manometric biofeedback (n=83).(4) Twenty-two patients in the exercise-only group and 38 in the biofeedback group improved during a 4-week run-in period and did not participate further, leaving 63 in the exercise group and 45 in the biofeedback group. The primary efficacy outcome was decrease in scores on the Fecal Incontinence Severity Instrument (FISI), a validated 4-item scale, from the end of run-in to 3 months. The analysis included all patients who completed at least 1 treatment (a total of 15 patients dropped out). The authors reported that there was a greater reduction in FISI scores in the biofeedback group compared with the exercise-only group (p=0.01; exact scores were not reported). Complete continence (no staining) was reported by 13 (21%) of 63 patients in the exercise-only group and 20 (44%) of 45 in the biofeedback group; this difference was statistically significant (p=0.008). A study limitation was that only 108 (64%) of 168 randomized patients received the intervention, and therefore, there may have been baseline imbalances in the treated groups that affected study outcomes. A stronger design is to randomize patients after, not before, a run-in period.

In 2011, Bartlett et al in Australia published an RCT with 72 participants comparing 2 exercise regimens used with biofeedback for fecal incontinence.(5) The study did not find significant differences in outcomes with the 2 types of exercises. It is not possible to make conclusions about the efficacy of biofeedback from this study’s findings because all participants received biofeedback.

Norton et al (2003) randomly assigned 171 patients with fecal incontinence to 1 of 4 treatment groups: standard care (advice), advice plus instruction on sphincter exercises, hospital-based computer-assisted sphincter pressure biofeedback, and hospital biofeedback plus the use of a home EMG biofeedback device.(6) Outcomes included diary reports of incontinence, quality of life, and anal manometry measurements. The authors reported that biofeedback yielded no greater benefit than standard care.

Solomon et al (2003) randomly assigned 120 patients with mild to moderate fecal incontinence to 1 of 3 treatment groups: biofeedback with anal manometry, biofeedback with transanal ultrasound, or pelvic floor exercises with feedback from digital examination alone.(7) There were no significant differences in outcomes among the treatment groups; all reported modest improvements.


A Cochrane review on behavioral and cognitive interventions for children with fecal incontinence was published in 2006 and updated in 2011.(8,9) Of 21 included studies, 9 compared conventional treatment alone (ie, laxatives, toilet training, dietary advice) with conventional treatment plus biofeedback. Eight trials included children with functional fecal incontinence, and the ninth included children with fecal incontinence due to myelomeningocele (n=12). Four trials included children who had fecal incontinence due to constipation, and 3 other trials included children who had fecal incontinence due to constipation and pelvic floor dyssynergia. When data from the 9 studies were combined, 133 (51%) of 260 children in the conventional treatment plus biofeedback group were not cured or improved at follow-up compared with 121 (48%) of 250 children in the conventional treatment only group. In a meta-analysis (random effects), this difference was not statistically significant (pooled OR=1.08; 95% CI, 0.63 to 1.84). The analysis combined 6- and 12-month follow-up data; 12-month data were used when available. The authors concluded that findings from RCTs do not support the claim that biofeedback training provides additional benefit to conventional treatment in the management of fecal incontinence associated with constipation. They also stated that, due to a lack of sufficient trials, they were unable to evaluate the effects of biofeedback in children with organic fecal incontinence.


Does the Addition of Biofeedback to Standard Care Improve Refractory Constipation, Compared With Standard Care Alone?


Several systematic reviews of RCTs have been published. Most recently, in 2014, a Cochrane review identified 17 trials (total of 931 patients) addressing the efficacy of biofeedback for treating adults with idiopathic constipation.(10) Seven trials compared biofeedback with conventional nonsurgical treatment, 6 compared alternative approaches to biofeedback, 2 compared biofeedback with a surgical intervention, 
compared biofeedback with electrical stimulation, and 1 used a sham control. Sample sizes ranged from 21 to 109, with a mean of 48 patients per trial. Sixteen RCTs were judged to be at high risk of bias related to blinding of patients and outcome assessment, and blinding in the remaining study was unclear. Trials all used different biofeedback protocols, although EMG biofeedback was used in 11 trials. Length of
follow-up varied; 4 trials did not follow patients beyond the end of the intervention, and 7 trials had a year of follow-up after the intervention. In most trials, a symptom scoring system was used as an outcome, but scores varied in the symptoms they included. Due to heterogeneity among trials, meta-analyses were not conducted. The authors concluded that there is insufficient evidence to draw conclusions about the efficacy of any particular biofeedback protocol used to treat chronic constipation in adults.

Previously, in 2009, the Enck et al systematic review, previously described in the section on fecal incontinence, also reviewed the literature on biofeedback for constipation and conducted several metaanalyses.(1) Eight RCTs conducted in adults were identified. Four of these compared 2 types of biofeedback; meta-analysis of these 4 studies did not find a significant benefit of 1 technique over another (pooled OR=1.44; 95% CI, 0.69 to 3.09; p=0.32). The other 4 studies compared biofeedback with another treatment. Comparison treatments (1 study each) were botulinum toxin, laxatives, diazepam, and best supportive care (diet, exercise, laxatives). Two studies also included a third arm, in which treatment was a sham or placebo intervention. Three of the 4 studies included patients with dyssynergia-type constipation, and the fourth included patients with anismus. Meta-analysis of the 4 studies comparing 1 treatment with another (using the active intervention arm as the comparison in the 3-arm trials) found a significantly greater benefit of biofeedback in improving constipation symptoms (pooled OR=3.23; 95% CI, 1.88 to 5.58; p<0.001). Results of this systematic review are limited by heterogeneity in patient populations, comparison treatments, and outcome measures. The 2 included 3-arm studies and newer RCTs published after the Enck review are described next.

Heymen et al (2007) included adults who met Rome II diagnostic criteria for pelvic floor dyssynergia, had at least 2 symptoms of functional constipation for at least 12 weeks in the past year, and had manometry or electromyography findings consistent with chronic constipation (eg, evidence of inadequate propulsive forces and incomplete evacuation).(11) Patients participated in a 4-week run-in period comprising education on diet and exercise and provision of fiber and stool softeners. Those who still met eligibility criteria at the end of the run-in period (84/117 [72%]) were randomly assigned to EMG biofeedback (n=30), diazepam 5 mg (n=30), or placebo medication (n=24). All participants were trained to perform pelvic floor exercises, and all received 6 biweekly visits over 3 months, each lasting approximately 50 minutes.  patients and investigators were blinded to which patients received active versus placebo medication but not to whether or not they received biofeedback. In an intention-to-treat (ITT) analysis after the 3-month intervention, the proportion of patients reporting adequate relief of constipation symptoms was 70% in the biofeedback group, 23% in the diazepam group, and 38% in the placebo group; biofeedback had a significantly greater benefit when compared with either diazepam (p<0.001) or placebo (p<0.017). A strength of this study was that it attempted to control for nonspecific effects of biofeedback, eg, increased contact with a health care provider and lifestyle modification advice, by including a run-in period and similar follow-up visits for all groups. Moreover, randomization did not occur until after the run-in period, so treatment groups were more likely to be similar at the start of the treatment phase.

Rao et al (2007) included patients who met Rome II diagnostic criteria for functional constipation, had dyssynergia-type constipation and, when expelling a simulated stool, had either prolonged difficulty (at least 1 minute) or prolonged delay (at least 20% marker retention in colonic transfer).(12) All participants had failed routine management of constipation. A total of 77 patients were randomly assigned to receive 3 months of standard therapy, ie, education, dietary advice (n=24), standard therapy and biofeedback therapy (n=28), or standard therapy and sham feedback (n=24). Patients receiving active biofeedback received up to 6 biweekly 1-hour sessions: training was performed using a rectal manometry probe and software for displaying biofeedback data. In the sham treatment group, patients also used a rectal manometry probe but did not receive visual and verbal feedback. Patients were not blinded to treatment group, but the manometry reader was unaware of treatment assignment. In an ITT analysis, after the 3-month intervention, patients in the biofeedback group reported a significantly greater increase in complete spontaneous bowel movements than the sham feedback group (p<0.05) and the standard treatment group (p<0.062). Additionally, a greater proportion of patients in the biofeedback group reported improved global bowel satisfaction compared with the sham feedback group (p=0.04), but difference from the standard treatment group was not statistically significant. (The authors did not report exact numbers for either of these preceding primary analyses.) For primary physiologic parameters, the ITT analysis found that the dyssynergia pattern was corrected in 79% of those in the biofeedback group, 4% in the sham group, and 8% in the standard treatment group. This difference was statistically significant in favor of the biofeedback group compared with each of the other groups (p<0.001 for both analyses). Moreover, balloon expulsion time during simulated defecation decreased significantly more in the biofeedback group compared with sham (p=0.003) or standard treatment (p=0.03) (exact times not reported for the ITT analysis).

A 2010 publication reported on 1-year findings of the Rao study in 13 (62%) of 21 patients in the biofeedback group and 13 (57%) of 23 in the standard treatment group.(13) Patients in the sham group were not included in this follow-up study. The extension study included visits at 3-month intervals, with additional advice provided as needed. Seven of the 13 biofeedback patients (54%) and all 13 patients in the standard treatment group completed 1-year follow-up. Mean change in complete spontaneous bowel movements (the primary outcome) favored the biofeedback group (increase, 2.9) compared with the standard treatment group (decrease, 0.2). The follow-up study suggests longer term effectiveness of biofeedback for this patient population. However, the small numbers of patients who completed 1-year follow-up, along with the dropout rate in the biofeedback group, limit conclusions that can be reached.


No systematic reviews or meta-analyses on biofeedback for constipation in children, not associated with fecal incontinence, were identified. The literature search did identify the 1 RCT published since 2000. Van Ginkel et al (2001) in the Netherlands included 212 children at least 5 years old with constipation who met at least 2 of the following 4 criteria: (1) stool frequency fewer than 3 times per week; (2) 2 or more soiling
and/or encopresis episodes per week; (3) periodic passage of very large amounts of stool every 7 to 30 days; or (4) a palpable abdominal or rectal fecal mass.(14) Participants were randomly assigned to 6 weeks of standard treatment, ie, education, laxatives (n=111) or standard treatment plus 2 sessions of anorectal manometry (n=91). During the manometry sessions, the child was asked to squeeze the sphincter as tight as possible 5 times. Squeeze pressure data were converted to digital values and transmitted to a computer; data could be viewed by the child and parent. Data were discussed after the sessions, and instructions were given on how to perform defecation exercises at home. Ten (5%) of 212 randomly assigned patients did not receive treatment, and the remainder completed the intervention. Treatment success was defined as achievement of 3 or more bowel movements per week and fewer than 1 soiling and/or encopresis episode per 2 weeks while not receiving laxatives. At 6 weeks, 4 (4%) of 111 in the standard treatment group and 6 (7%) of 91 in the biofeedback group were considered to have successful treatment; this difference was not statistically significant. There was also no statistically significant difference between groups at any other follow-up point. At the final 104-week follow-up, 36 (43%) of 83 patients in the standard treatment group and 23 (35%) of 65 in the biofeedback group were considered treatment successes. Data on 30% of randomized patients were missing at final follow-up. This trial did not control for nonspecific effects of biofeedback.

Ongoing and Unpublished Clinical Trials

  • Comparison of PTNS and Biofeedback for Fecal Incontinence (NCT01882101)(15) : This open-label study is randomizing 50 adults with fecal incontinence to treatment with posterior tibial nerve stimulation or EMG biofeedback. The primary outcome is change in weekly episodes of fecal incontinence. The expected date of completion is December 2014.

Summary of Evidence

There is a relatively large body of literature (ie, randomized controlled trials [RCTs], systematic reviews) evaluating the efficacy of biofeedback for treating fecal incontinence and constipation. For the treatment of fecal incontinence, systematic reviews have not found that biofeedback provides additional benefit when offered in conjunction with conventional therapy, compared with conventional therapy alone.  While 1 RCT found that there was a significantly greater decrease in fecal incontinence symptoms with biofeedback plus exercise training than with exercise training alone, most trials do not show a significant benefit. Overall, the evidence is insufficient to conclude that biofeedback improves the net health outcome for adults and children with fecal incontinence; therefore, this treatment is considered investigational.

For the treatment of constipation, a systematic review of RCTs found a benefit of biofeedback as a treatment of constipation in adults. Conclusions of the systematic review were limited by variability in patient populations, comparison groups, and outcome measures. However, detailed examination of several well-conducted RCTs focusing on patients with dyssynergia-type constipation suggests benefits in a subgroup of patients who meet criteria similar to trial participants. Thus, biofeedback may be considered medically necessary in adult patients with dyssynergia-type constipation who meet selection criteria and investigational for other patients with constipation.

Practice Guidelines and Position Statements

In 2013, the American Gastroenterological Association updated their position statement on constipation. The following statement on biofeedback was included: “Pelvic floor retraining by biofeedback therapy rather than laxatives is recommended for defecatory disorders (Strong Recommendation, High-Quality Evidence).”(16)

In May 2010, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence issued a guideline on constipation in children and young people. The guideline states that biofeedback should not be used for ongoing treatment.(17) In June 2007, they issued a guideline on fecal incontinence in adults which states the following regarding biofeedback: “The evidence we found did not show biofeedback to be more effective than standard care,
exercises alone, or other conservative therapies. The limited number of studies and the small number of participants in each group of the studies make it difficult to come to any definitive conclusion about its effectiveness.”(18)

In 2008, the National Institutes of Health issued a state-of-the science statement on fecal and urinary incontinence based on a consensus conference held in December 2007.(19) Conclusions included the following statement: “Pelvic floor muscle training and biofeedback are effective in preventing and reversing fecal and urinary incontinence in women for the first year after giving birth….”

In December 2007, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality issued an Evidence Report/Technology Assessment,

,(20) based on research conducted by the Minnesota Evidence-based Practice Center. One of the research objectives was to review the effectiveness of clinical interventions to reduce the risk of incontinence. The authors identified 1 RCT that found twice the rate of control of fecal incontinence in women who had obstetric and sphincter trauma after biofeedback training with pelvic floor muscle training compared with muscle training alone. The review concluded that limited evidence supports a reduction in fecal incontinence after complex behavioral interventions, which include exercises augmented with biofeedback.

In October 2007, the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS) released Practice Parameters for the Treatment of Fecal Incontinence.(21) The report stated that biofeedback can be considered as a treatment option for patients who have not responded to dietary modification or medication (level of evidence: III; grade of recommendation: B). It also stated that biofeedback may be considered in the early post-partum period for women with symptomatic sphincter weakness. Also, in 2007, ASCRS published Practice Parameters for the Evaluation and Management of Constipation.(22) Biofeedback therapy was recommended for patients with symptomatic pelvic floor dyssynergia (level of evidence: class II; grade of recommendation: B).

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has not addressed biofeedback for fecal incontinence or constipation.

Medicare National Coverage
National Coverage Determination for Biofeedback (30.1)

Biofeedback therapy is covered under Medicare only when it is reasonable and necessary for the individual patient for muscle reeducation of specific muscle groups or for treating pathological muscle abnormalities of spasticity, incapacitating muscle spasm, or weakness, and more conventional treatments (heat, cold, massage, exercise, support) have not been successful. This therapy is not covered for treatment of ordinary muscle tension states or for psychosomatic conditions.(23)


  1. Enck P, Van der Voort IR, Klosterhalfen S. Biofeedback therapy in fecal incontinence and constipation. Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2009;21(11):1133-1141.
  2. Vonthein R, Heimerl T, Schwandner T, et al. Electrical stimulation and biofeedback for the treatment of fecal incontinence: a systematic review. Int J Colorectal Dis. Nov 2013;28(11):1567-1577. PMID 23900652
  3. Norton C, Cody JD. Biofeedback and/or sphincter exercises for the treatment of faecal incontinence in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2012;7:CD002111. PMID 22786479
  4. Heymen S, Scarlett Y, Jones K, et al. Randomized controlled trial shows biofeedback to be superior to pelvic floor exercises for fecal incontinence. Dis Colon Rectum. 2009;52(10):1730-1737.
  5. Bartlett L, Sloots K, Nowak M, et al. Biofeedback for fecal incontinence: a randomized study comparing exercise regimens. Dis Colon Rectum. 2011;54(7):846-856.
  6. Norton C, Chelvanayagam S, Wilson-Barnett J, et al. Randomized controlled trial of biofeedback for fecal incontinence. Gastroenterology. Nov 2003;125(5):1320-1329. PMID 14598248
  7. Solomon MJ, Pager CK, Rex J, et al. Randomized, controlled trial of biofeedback with anal manometry, transanal ultrasound, or pelvic floor retraining with digital guidance alone in the treatment of mild to moderate fecal incontinence. Dis Colon Rectum. Jun 2003;46(6):703-710. PMID 12794569
  8. Brazzelli M, Griffiths P. Behavioural and cognitive interventions with or without other treatments for the management of faecal incontinence in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006(2):CD002240.
  9. Brazzelli M, Griffiths PV, Cody JD, et al. Behavioural and cognitive interventions with or without other treatments for the management of faecal incontinence in children. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011(12):CD002240. PMID 22161370
  10. Woodward S, Norton C, Chiarelli P. Biofeedback for treatment of chronic idiopathic constipation in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;3:CD008486. PMID 24668156
  11. Heymen S, Scarlett Y, Jones K, et al. Randomized, controlled trial shows biofeedback to be superior to alternative treatments for patients with pelvic floor dyssynergia-type constipation. Dis Colon Rectum. 2007;50(4):428-411.
  12. Rao SS, Seaton K, Miller M, et al. Randomized controlled trial of biofeedback, sham feedback and standard therapy for dyssynergic defecation. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2007;5(3):331-338.
  13. Rao SS, Valestin J, Brown CK, et al. Long-term efficacy of biofeedback therapy for dyssynergic defection: randomized controlled trial. Am J Gastroenterol. 2010;105(4):890-896.
  14. van Ginkel R, Buller HA, Boeckxstaens GE, et al. The effect of anorectal manometry on the outcome of treatment in severe childhood constipation: a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics. 2001;108(1):E9.
  15. Sponsored by Seoul National University Hospital. Comparison of PTNS and Biofeedback for Fecal Incontinence (NCT01882101). Accessed November, 2014.
  16. American Gastroenterological Association. American Gastroenterological Association medical position statement on constipation. Accessed November, 2014.
  17. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Guideline 99: Constipation in children and young people. 2010; Accessed November, 2014.
  18. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Guideline 49: Faecal incontinence: the management of faecal incontinence in adults. . 2007; Accessed
  19. Landefeld CS, Bowers BJ, Feld AD, et al. National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Conference Statement: Prevention of fecal and urinary incontinence in adults. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148(6):449-458.
  20. Shamliyan T, Wyman J, Bliss DZ, et al. Prevention of urinary and fecal incontinence in adults. Evid Rep Technol Assess (Full Rep) 2007;161(AHRQ Publication No. 08-E003):1-379.
  21. Tjandra JJ, Dykes SL, Kumar RR, et al. Standards Practice Task Force of the American Society of Colon Rectal Surgeons. Practice parameters for the treatment of fecal incontinence. Dis Colon Rectum. 2007;50(10):1497-1507.
  22. Ternent CA, Bastawrous AL, Morin NASPTFotASoC, et al. Practice parameters for the evaluation and management of constipation. Dis Colon Rectum. 2007;50(12):2013-2022.
  23. National Coverage Determination (NCD) for Biofeedback Therapy (30.1). Accessed November, 2014. 




CPT  90875–90876  Individual psychophysiological therapy incorporating biofeedback training by any modality (face-to-face with the patient), with psychotherapy (e.g., insight oriented, behavior modifying, or supportive psychotherapy); code range  
  90901  Biofeedback training by any modality 
  90911  Biofeedback training, perineal muscles, anorectal, or urethral sphincter, including EMG and/or manometry 
ICD-9 Procedure  93.08  EMG 
  94.39  Other individual psychotherapy (biofeedback) 
ICD-9 Diagnosis    Investigational for all codes  
HCPCS  E0746  Electromyography (EMG), biofeedback device  
ICD-10-CM (effective 10/1/15)     Investigational for all codes  
    F98.1 Encopresis not due to a substance or known physiological condition  
    K59.00-K59.09 Constipation code range  
   R15 Fecal incontinence  
ICD-10-PCS (effective 10/1/15)    ICD-10-PCS codes are only used for inpatient services.  
    GZC9ZZZ Biofeedback 
Type of Service  Medicine  
Place of Service  Outpatient 


Biofeedback, Fecal Incontinence in Adults
EMG Biofeedback

Policy History

Date Action Reason
12/17/2003 Add policy to Medicine section
New policy
03/15/2005 Replace policy Policy updated with literature search; policy statement unchanged. References added (Nos. 25–27)
07/20/2006 Replace policy Policy updated with literature search; policy statement unchanged. References added (Nos. 28–29)
02/14/08 Replace policy Policy updated with literature search; reference 30 added; policy statement unchanged.
2/12/09 Replace policy Policy updated with literature search through December 2008; Physician Specialty Society Guidelines and Medicare National Coverage added; references 31- 35 added; policy statement unchanged.
10/08/10 Replace policy Policy updated with literature search through June 2010; Scope expanded to include constipation and title changed to reflect this change. Policy statements on constipation added; medically necessary in adults with pelvic floor dyssynergia-type constipation who have failed routine management; otherwise investigational. No change in policy statement on fecal incontinence. Rationale extensively rewritten; references 1,7,9-13, 18 and 19 added; other references re-ordered or removed.
10/04/11 Replace policy Policy updated with literature search through July 2011; no change to policy statements; References 8 and 13 added; other references renumbered.
1/10/13 Replace policy Policy updated with literature search through September 2012. Statement added that biofeedback for constipation in adults may be considered medically necessary for patients with dyssynergia-type constipation who meet criteria. Investigational statement on constipation modified to indicate that it applies to all patients who do not meet criteria in medically necessary statement. References 2, 8 and 13 added; other references renumbered.
1/15/15 Replace policy Policy updated with literature review through December 15, 2014. No change to policy statements. Reference 10 added.


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