Biofeedback is a technique that allows people to control basic bodily functions using will-power. It can stop pain, lower blood pressure, or improve stress. If mastered it can be one of the most powerful tools in mind-body medicine.

Biofeedback - Introduction

Biofeedback therapy involves a training process.  Very simply, biofeedback teaches people how to control their bodies.  Several different types of biofeedback sensors can provide information about the body that can be used to control other simple function.  Pain and stress are also phenomenons that can be controlled.

Electromyogram (EMG)

Many problems are related to stress and muscle tension.  Muscle tension can be measured with an electromyogram (EMG) machine. The most common muscles that biofeedback practitioners will use are the frontalis (the "frowning" muscle in your forehead), the masseter (jaw muscle), and the trapezium (the shoulder muscles that hunch when you're stressed).  The training is aimed at quieting EMG responses to relax the muscles.

EMG biofeedback training has been used for the treatment of tension headaches, backache, neck pain, bruxism (grinding the teeth), and the stress related illnesses (asthma and ulcers for example).

Temperature Biofeedback

Temperature biofeedback devices which monitors skin temperature and can be helpful in certain circulatory disorders. Reynolds disease is a good example of a circulatory problem that responds to biofeedback in some patients.  Some doctors believe that perhaps reflex sympathetic dystrophy can improve with this biofeedback.

Galvanic skin response (GSH) or Electrodermal Response (EDR)

Also known as Electrodermal Response (EDR), Galvanic skin response measures electrical conductance in the skin.  This measures the activity of the sweat glands. It is the same machine used as for lie detection tests. It can be used to treat hyperhydrosis and perhaps also stress.

Electroencephalogram (EEG)

The electroencephalogram measures brain wave activity. The brain emits many electrical signals. The signals include:  beta (awake), alpha (calm relaxation), theta (light sleep), and delta (deep sleep).

Alpha waves are associated with relaxation. Biofeedback using EEG testing can help people relax and can be used to treat stress and pain disorders.

Other Types of Biofeedback Instruments

Other biofeedback monitors include machines that test heart rate, blood pressure, and other simple bodily functions.  Some can be used for stress or pain in particular patients.

Biofeedback in Action

Most of the electrical testing machines used for biofeedback convert are set up to give very simple feedback to the patient.  Usually they either use a light or a buzzer. The machine can be adjusted to accommodate different patients with different problems.  Usually, the person using the biofeedback machine is told extinguish the buzz or the light.  He or she will be instructed in techniques to meditate and the machine will measure the success.

People quickly learn how various frames of mind will change the light or buzzer. The feedback from the machine speeds the learning process and helps patients get rid of medical symptoms using meditation and will power.

Biofeedback sessions usually last thirty to sixty minutes. The number of sessions each week and the duration of the training depend on your condition and the progress you make. It generally does not exceed 15 sessions.

Once a person has learned to become deeply relaxed, it becomes possible for him to elicit the same state of mind that he uses in the biofeedback laboratory when he is at home or at work. For example, if the problem is blood pressure, he remembers how he felt when the monitor cuff attached to his arm revealed that his pressure was reduced to normal. As with all therapies, results vary.  In the best case, people suffering from a problem reduce their dependency on drugs, or give them up completely.

A study reported in Lancet (July 19, 1975) evaluated the difference between six weeks' treatment by yoga relaxation methods with biofeedback with a "placebo" therapy consisting of general relaxation. 34 high blood pressure patients were used in the study. One group was given yoga relaxation techniques with biofeedback. The control group used just relaxation.  The biofeedback group showed an average reduction from 168/100 to 141/84, an average drop of 16 points in the blood pressure.  

Results for pain patients have been particularly gratifying.  EMG testing is used as the feedback for back pain. If there is an excess of electrical activity from muscle tension, an alarm sounds and the patient is taught to control the pain associated with spasm.  Herta Flor and her colleagues treated patients suffering from chronic back pain with 12 one-hour sessions of biofeedback. They were compared to a control group who were not treated.  All of the patients given biofeedback reported at least a 40 percent reduction in pain intensity, and half of them experienced a drop of 75 percent or more.  The improvement was shown to last at least two years.

Examples of diseases treated with Biofeedback

  • Anxiety Disorders
  • Back Pain (follow this link)
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Endometriosis
  • Insomnia
  • Menopause
  • Migraine
  • Tinnitus
  • Stress Management

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Last modified: 07/31/08