Biofeedback as a Treatment of Fecal Incontinence or Constipation

Number 2.01.64

Effective Date March 25, 2014

Revision Date(s) 03/10/14; 03/11/13; 12/11/12; 12/13/11; 12/14/10

Replaces N/A


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) 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.

Related Policies


Interferential Current Stimulation




Biofeedback as a Treatment for Headache


Biofeedback as a Treatment of Chronic Pain


Transanal Radiofrequency Treatment of Fecal Incontinence


Biofeedback for Miscellaneous Indications


Biofeedback as a Treatment of Urinary Incontinence


Sacral Nerve Neuromodulation/Stimulation

Policy Guidelines

Rome III Diagnostic Criteria for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (

Rome III diagnostic criteria for Functional constipation*

  1. Must include 2 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
  1. Loose stools are rarely present without the use of laxatives
  2. 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 – 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.


Biofeedback is a technique to teach patients self-regulation of physiological processes not generally considered to be under voluntary control; a variety of approaches and devices are available. Among other possible indications, biofeedback is proposed as a treatment of fecal incontinence and constipation.


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 (e.g., fiber), bowel and toilet scheduling, and medications (e.g., bulking or antidiarrheal agents).

Constipation refers to infrequent bowel movements and difficulty expelling stool during defecation. Primary constipation is generally categorized into three 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 (i.e., 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 (i.e., 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 three 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 intra-rectal 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, non-arousing environment

Regulatory Status

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


Medical policies are systematically developed guidelines that serve as a resource for Company staff when determining coverage for specific medical procedures, drugs or devices. Coverage for medical services is subject to the limits and conditions of the member benefit plan. Members and their providers should consult the member benefit booklet or contact a customer service representative to determine whether there are any benefit limitations applicable to this service or supply. This policy does not apply to Medicare Advantage.

Benefit Application

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. The most recent literature search was performed for the period November 2012 through November 21, 2013. Following is a summary of the key literature to date.

Several 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 (e.g., anal pressure, squeeze pressure, sensory threshold, rectal inhibitory reflex, or defecation dynamics) does not correspond with symptom relief (i.e., 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 randomized controlled trials (RCT) 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 nine studies consisted of five comparisons of different modalities of biofeedback and six 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 nine studies was 540; sample sizes of individual studies ranged from 18 to 171. A meta-analysis of five 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 to 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 appears 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, e.g., biofeedback, education and sphincter exercise. In addition, 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 to another type of exercise. The authors did not pool study findings due to heterogeneity among trials.

Representative RCTs are described below:

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 the 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 to the exercise-only group (p=0.01, exact scores were not reported). Complete continence (no staining) was reported by 13 of 63 (21%) in the exercise-only group and 20 of 45 (44%) in the biofeedback group; this difference was statistically significant (p=0.008). A study limitation was that only 108 of 168 randomized patients (64%) received the intervention, and therefore there may have been baseline differences 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 reported in 2003 on the results of a trial that randomly assigned 171 patients with fecal incontinence to 1 of 4 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.

In 2003, Solomon et al reported on the results of a trial that randomly assigned 120 patients with mild to moderate fecal incontinence to 1 of 3 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 the 21 studies, 9 compared conventional treatment alone (i.e., laxatives, toilet training, dietary advice) to 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). In four trials, children were included who had fecal incontinence due to constipation, and in three other trials, children had fecal incontinence due to constipation and pelvic floor dyssynergia. When data from the nine studies were combined, 133 of 260 (51.2%) in the conventional treatment plus biofeedback group were not cured or improved at follow-up compared to 121 of 250 (48.4%) patients in the conventional 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 six- 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?


The Enck et al systematic review, described above in the section on fecal incontinence, also reviewed the literature on biofeedback for constipation. (1) Eight RCTs conducted in adults were identified. Four of these compared two types of biofeedback; a meta-analysis of these 4 studies did not find a significant benefit of one technique over another (pooled OR= 1.44; 95% CI: 0.69 to 3.09; p=0.32). The other four studies compared biofeedback to another treatment. Comparison treatments (one study each) were botulinum toxin, laxatives, diazepam, and best supportive care (diet, exercise, and laxatives). Two studies also included a third arm, in which treatment was a sham or placebo intervention. Three of the four studies included patients with dyssynergia-type constipation and the fourth included patients with anismus. A meta-analysis of the four studies comparing one treatment with another (using the active intervention arm as the comparison in the three-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). The results of this systematic review are limited by the heterogeneity in patient populations, comparison treatments, and outcome measures. The two three-arm studies and newer RCTs published after the Enck review are described below.

Heymen et al included adults who met Rome II diagnostic criteria for pelvic floor dyssynergia, had two or more symptoms of functional constipation for at least 12 weeks in the past year, and had manometry or electromyography findings consistent with chronic constipation (e.g., evidence of inadequate propulsive forces and incomplete evacuation). (10) Patients participated in a four-week run-in period consisting of 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 of 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 six biweekly visits over three 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 three-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 either with 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 e.g., 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 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 one minute) or prolonged delay (at least 20% marker retention in colonic transfer). (11) All participants had failed routine management of constipation. A total of 77 patients were randomly assigned to receive three months of standard therapy, i.e., 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 the 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 three-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). In addition, a greater proportion of the patients in the biofeedback group reported improved global bowel satisfaction compared to the sham feedback group (p=0.04), but the comparison with the standard treatment group was not significantly different. (The authors did not report exact numbers for either of these preceding primary analyses). Of the 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 to each of the other groups (p<0.001 for both analyses). Moreover, the 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 of 21 (62%) patients in the biofeedback group and 13 of 23 (57%) in the standard treatment group. (12) Patients in the sham group were not included in this follow-up study. The extension study included visits at three-month intervals, with additional advice provided as needed. Seven of the 13 (54%) biofeedback patients and all 13 patients in the standard treatment group completed the one-year follow-up. Mean change in complete spontaneous bowel movements (the primary outcome) favored the biofeedback group (increase of 2.9) compared to the standard treatment group (decrease of 0.2). The follow-up study suggests longer-term effectiveness of biofeedback for this patient population. However, the small numbers of patients who completed the 1-year follow-up, along with the drop-out rate in the biofeedback group, limit the conclusions that can be reached.

A 2012 RCT by Hart et al included 21 patients with constipation who failed to respond to dietary and medical therapies. (13) (The study was not limited to patients with dyssynergia-type constipation.) The experimental arm consisted of biofeedback with an EMG rectal probe. Patients were taught to isolate the anal sphincter and receive feedback on the muscle activity of the external anal sphincter. In the control intervention, investigators attempted to control for the non-specific effects of biofeedback by using biofeedback but no rectal probe. The comparison intervention involved biofeedback with bilateral EMGs in conjunction with surface electrodes placed on the trapezius or temporalis muscle and muscle tension reduction instruction. Both groups were given 6 treatment sessions (every other week for 12 weeks). A total of 15 of 21 patients (71%) completed the study and were included in the follow-up evaluation. The 2 primary outcome measures were the Constipation Severity Instrument (CSI) and the Irritable Bowel Syndrome Quality of Life Scale (IBS-QOL); both of these are multi-item self-report instruments. For the CSI, a lower score represents less severe symptoms and for the IBS-QOL, a higher score represents a higher quality of life. The authors did not report the possible maximum scores for either measure. The change in scores from baseline to follow-up assessments did not differ significantly between groups for either outcome measure. Mean scores on the CSI decreased from 46.5 to 30.0 in the anorectal biofeedback group and 41.2 to 34.9 in the biofeedback control group. Mean scores on IBS-QOL increased from 80.8 to 96.1 in the anorectal biofeedback group and from 90.6 to 96.7 in the biofeedback control group. The study had a small sample size and was likely underpowered to statistically significant difference between groups.


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

Ongoing 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 (PTNS) or EMG biofeedback. The primary outcome is change in weekly episodes of fecal incontinence. The expected date of completion is December 2014.


There is a relatively large body of literature (i.e., randomized controlled trials [RCTs] and 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 one recent RCT found that there was a significantly greater decrease in fecal incontinence symptoms with biofeedback plus exercise training than with exercise training alone, the majority of 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 outcomes measures. However, detailed examination of several well-conducted RCTs focusing on patients with dyssynergia-type constipation suggests benefits in a sub-group 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) Included in the conclusions was 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, an Evidence Report/Technology Assessment, Prevention of Urinary and Fecal Incontinence in Adults,(20) based on research conducted by the Minnesota Evidence-based Practice Center under contract to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, was issued. One of the research objectives was to review the effectiveness of clinical interventions to reduce the risk of incontinence. The authors identified one 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 to 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 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 states that biofeedback may be considered in the early post-partum period for women with symptomatic sphincter weakness. Also, in 2007, they published Practice Parameters for the Evaluation and Management of Constipation.(22) They recommend biofeedback therapy for patients with symptomatic pelvic floor dyssynergia (Level of Evidence: Class II; Grade of Recommendation: B).

Medicare National Coverage

National Coverage Determination (NCD) for Biofeedback (30.1)

Biofeedback therapy is covered under Medicare only when it is reasonable and necessary for the individual patient for muscle re-education 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)


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  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 2013; 28(11):1567-77.
  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.
  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):1730-7.
  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):846-56.
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  16. American Gastroenterological Association. American Gastroenterological Association medical position statement on constipation. Available online at: Last accessed December, 2013.
  17. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Guideline 99: Constipation in children and young people. 2010. Available online at: Last accessed December, 2013.
  18. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Guideline 49: Faecal incontinence: the management of faecal incontinence in adults. . 2007. Available online at: Last accessed December, 2013.
  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):449-58.
  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):1497-507.
  22. Ternent CA, Bastawrous AL, Morin NASPTFotASoC et al. Practice parameters for the evaluation and management of constipation. Dis Colon Rectum 2007; 50(12):2013-22.
  23. National Coverage Determination (NCD) for Biofeedback Therapy (30.1). Available online at: Last accessed December, 2013.
  24. Blue Cross Blue and Shield Association. Biofeedback as a Treatment of Fecal Incontinence or Constipation. Medical Policy Reference Manual, Policy 2.01.64, 2014.







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); 20-30 minutes



45-50 minutes



Biofeedback training by any modality.



Biofeedback training, perineal muscles, anorectal, or urethral sphincter, including EMG and/or manometry.



Electromyography (EMG), biofeedback device

Type of Service



Place of Service









Add to Medicine Section - New Policy


Replace policy - Policy updated with literature search through June 2010; scope of the policy expanded to include constipation and title changed to reflect this change. Policy statements on constipation added; investigational in adults and children. 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.


Related Policies updated; 2.01.29 added.


Replace policy – Policy updated with literature search through July 2011; no change to policy statements; References 8 and 13 added; other references renumbered.


Related Policies updated with 7.01.69 as an addition.


Coding Update – ICD-10 codes are now effective 10/01/2014.


Replace policy. References 3 and 24 added. No change to policy statements.


Replace Policy. Policy updated with literature search through September 2012. Statement added that biofeedback for constipation in adults, previously considered investigational, 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. ICD-9 code range 564.00-564.09 added.


Update Related Policies. Add 2.01.527, replaced 2.01.27.


Replace policy. Policy updated with literature search through November 21, 2013. No change to policy statements. References 2, 15, and 16 added; other references renumbered. Remove ICD-9 and ICD-10 procedure codes (this is done outpatient) and diagnosis codes which are not utilized for adjudication of the policy.

Disclaimer: This medical policy is a guide in evaluating the medical necessity of a particular service or treatment. The Company adopts policies after careful review of published peer-reviewed scientific literature, national guidelines and local standards of practice. Since medical technology is constantly changing, the Company reserves the right to review and update policies as appropriate. Member contracts differ in their benefits. Always consult the member benefit booklet or contact a member service representative to determine coverage for a specific medical service or supply. CPT codes, descriptions and materials are copyrighted by the American Medical Association (AMA).
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