Biofeedback therapy is a noninvasive treatment for a wide range of medical disorders. It requires no pharmaceuticals. Instead, this treatment embraces the concept that the mind and body are intricately connected. Through this connection, some medical practitioners say people can learn to alleviate health issues such as high blood pressure, chronic pain, and tension headaches. Researchers haven’t found a reason why biofeedback works, but they do seem to agree that it promotes relaxation and is especially effective for stress-related conditions.
Conditions That May Benefit From Biofeedback
Physicians may prescribe biofeedback for a variety of reasons, many of them stress-related. People have found relief through biofeedback therapy for a wide range of conditions including migraines, anxiety, depression, incontinence, and insomnia. Ongoing chronic pain, such as back pain, can also improve upon treatment. Biofeedback may alleviate symptoms associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, asthma, and high blood pressure. However, some conditions require continuation of prescribed medications in addition to the biofeedback therapy, and everyone should consult their physician before ceasing any other treatments.
The Basics of Biofeedback
Biofeedback teaches people to control certain physiological functions. Practitioners place electrodes or sensors in specific areas on the body according to the condition that requires treatment. To treat stress reduction, for example, the therapist places the electrodes on the forehead, just above the eyes. These sensors and electrodes measure the heart rate, brain waves, or other body functions. The results appear on a monitor where the individual can see them. Using guided relaxation techniques, the therapist teaches the person to control these involuntary physiological processes and lower their body’s stress response.
Biofeedback Session Specifics
Practitioners may conduct biofeedback therapy in a hospital, medical practitioner’s office, a physical therapy clinic, or a therapist’s office. Most biofeedback sessions last between 30 and 60 minutes. Successful treatment usually requires a minimum of ten sessions. However, the process could take as many as 20 sessions or more. The number of sessions correlates with the condition needing treatment and the individual’s ability to grasp the process.
Stress Factors and Biofeedback Sensors
A trained biofeedback therapist guides the individual through the session. Sensors are attached to specific sites on the body. These sensors monitor the physiological changes that stress causes, such as the tightening of muscles, increased pulse rates, or increased sweat gland activity. These stress factors are the same as those experienced when the body feels pain, for example. Auditory and visual cues, such as beeps or flashing lights, notify the individual that the sensors detect stress. Once the person learns to recognize the stress factors without the cues, the sensors are no longer necessary for biofeedback therapy.
There are several types of biofeedback.The practitioner may use an electroencephalogram (EEG), also known as neurofeedback, to monitor brain wave activity during times of wakefulness or relaxation. The EEG can also monitor the individual during periods of light or deep sleep, or varying levels of calmness.An electromyogram (EMG) monitors muscle tension.Temperature biofeedback uses sensors attached to the fingers or feet to measure body temperature. The lower the body temperature, the higher the stress level.Galvanic skin response training measures perspiration and sweat gland activity. It is especially effective on phobias and other emotional disorders.
Relaxation Techniques Used in Biofeedback Therapy
Biofeedback requires no medications for relaxation. Instead, a therapist guides the person through relaxation techniques intended to help them control bodily functions.
- Mindfulness meditation teaches the individual to focus on what he or she is feeling at that specific moment, leading to a more relaxed state.
- Deep breathing exercises lower stress levels by connecting with the body.
- Guided imagery encourages the individual to focus the mind on an image that fosters a more relaxed state.
- Progressive muscle relaxation encourages the individual to tighten, then relax different muscle groups, which encourages the release of physical tension.
Why Relaxation Techniques are Important
As far back as 1903, researchers theorized a connection between the brain, the body, and healing, and developed early steps toward modern biofeedback therapy. Today, the medical community recognizes biofeedback as an effective way to alter physiological activity and, as a result, improve overall health. With practice, a person can learn to lower brain impulses in response to specific involuntary bodily processes such as pain. Biofeedback teaches a variety of relaxation techniques that allow the individual to focus on a specific area of the body to control symptoms, chronic conditions, and other physiological issues.
Benefits of Biofeedback
Biofeedback is a safe therapy for most individuals, but some people report a lack of concentration or feelings of anxiety following treatments. For those who live with chronic pain, biofeedback therapy may enable them to reduce their dosage of medication. Some patients no longer require medication for pain once they have learned biofeedback techniques. Many doctors prescribe biofeedback for patients who have had little success with other treatments. Stress causes many illnesses and medical conditions. Because biofeedback therapy uses relaxation techniques, it also teaches people how to deal with stress, which may offer a long-term solution for chronic conditions.
Biofeedback Equipment for Home Use
Biofeedback sessions require specialized equipment, but there are versions available on the market for home use, though these products are not regulated. Some manufacturers make fraudulent claims as to what types of ailments their machines can effectively treat. The FDA has approved only one type of biofeedback device designed for home use. It is considered an effective method of promoting slow, deep breathing to reduce stress and blood pressure. Biofeedback may not always be the ideal treatment method. Consulting with a physician can better guarantee appropriate treatment.
Finding a Qualified Biofeedback Therapist
Check with state licensing boards to find qualified biofeedback practitioners. Physical therapists, social workers, nurses, or psychologists may offer biofeedback services. Verify credentials, research references, and check for certifications before accepting treatment. The amount of experience a biofeedback therapist offers is crucial to the success of the training process. Always speak with a physician or therapist to determine whether biofeedback is an effective method of treatment for the condition.