What is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback is a low-risk, minimally invasive treatment option for the management of chronic pain and other health conditions. Biofeedback was developed under the idea that what happens within the body can be affected by our thinking – even purposefully. Indeed, the experience of pain causes stress to the body and the mind.
Moreover, stress has been linked to physiological changes within the body (such as increases in heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and respiration) that are known to exacerbate pain. This then creates a feedback loop, which makes it increasingly difficult for the patient to break the cycle of pain without intervention. Thus, biofeedback is an opportunity to break that cycle of stress pain.
Also referred to as biofeedback training, this widely utilized treatment for managing pain involves training patients, in a systematic manner, on how to alter various physiological processes within their own body through the use of visual cues, or feedback. Following successful biofeedback training, patients are able to better recognize their own body’s response to pain and, ideally, are able to have more control over their physiological responses, and therefore more control over the severity of chronic pain flare-ups.
Types of Biofeedback
Biofeedback is generally regarded as safe, and is often viewed as an attractive alternative when other treatments have been unsuccessful at reducing the symptoms of chronic pain, as it does not involve the use of medication or surgery.
There are several different types of biofeedback. Most are done with the use of electrodes or sensors attached to the surface of the skin. Most biofeedback trainings take approximately eight weeks (one to two visits per week) to complete. Some studies have shown that the benefits gained during these trainings last well beyond their initial training; however, more studies are needed in this area.
In order to do biofeedback training, patients are connected to specialized instruments designed to accurately measure various autonomic functions, such as heart rate, respiration, muscle tone, or brain wave activity. The patient’s internal bodily processes are then displayed on a computer screen, in real time. Thus, the patient is trained to alter these internal processes by using the visual representation, as well as techniques taught to them by expert-trained biofeedback technicians.
The most widely used types of biofeedback are:
- Electromyography (EMG): This is used to provide a measure of muscle tension.
- Electroencephalography (EEG): This is used to provide a measure of brain wave activity.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG): This is used to provide a measure of heart rate and heart rate variability.
- Galvanic skin response (GSR): This is used to provide a measure of the amount of moisture on the surface of the skin.
- Thermal feedback: This is used to provide a measure of skin temperature.
The type of biofeedback program that is right for you will depend on your individual profile. For instance, the thermal feedback protocol is recommended for individuals struggling with chronic migraine headaches.
Biofeedback has been the preferred method of treatment for many, due to its medication-free qualities. It is believed that biofeedback is effective in reducing the severity of pain by reducing the negative impact stress has on the body’s physiological processes.
Conditions Related To Biofeedback
Research examining the effectiveness of biofeedback has suggested that it may be effective for a large number of health-related conditions.
For instance, successful completion of biofeedback training has proven to be beneficial for individuals struggling with both urinary and fecal incontinence, migraines, headaches, insomnia, high blood pressure, and fibromyalgia.
Other studies suggest hat biofeedback is beneficial for:
- Back pain
- Chronic pain
- Muscle spasms
- Sexual disorders
Biofeedback is a widely used, alternative treatment that teaches patients skills in altering their autonomic nervous system through the use of real-time visual feedback of various bodily functions. Through the training practice, the patient learns to better recognize the effects of stress on the autonomic nervous system, to implement relaxation practice, and to thereby reduce the deleterious effects of stress on the patient’s condition. Some evidence has suggested that receiving biofeedback training for managing chronic pain can have long lasting beneficial effects on future episodes of pain.
While biofeedback is generally considered safe and has no reported side effects, it may not be appropriate for everyone. Please talk to your doctor if you are interested in receiving biofeedback training for yourself.