Biofeedback

Overview

Biofeedback is a type of alternative therapy that helps in controlling body’s involuntary functions, like muscle tension, heart rate, and breathing, to improve physical and mental health. It can help with issues like chronic pain, anxiety, and incontinence.

When the body is in pain or stressed, body functions often change. With biofeedback, noninvasive tools are used to monitor these functions and provide guidance on how to consciously change them. Electrical pads are used to gather information about one’s body functions.

While biofeedback is not used alone to treat conditions, it can be useful in managing symptoms. It can relax muscles and control body changes, which can relieve pain and tension. By practicing these techniques, one can improve health issues and make daily activities easier.

Types

Biofeedback often uses different sensors for each type of kmeasurement. The prescribed biofeedback is tailored to one’s specific health issues and goals. The healthcare provider explain the feedback and suggest ways to adjust body’s functions.

The types of biofeedback include:

  • Heart rate: A sensor can be placed on a finger to measure heart rate. When the individual relaxes, their heart rate may decrease. In the same way, pads can also be placed on the chest, lower trunk, or wrists, and connected to an electrocardiogram (ECG) to measure heart rate and its changes.
  • Breathing: This may help individuals control their breathing to feel better. Bands with sensors are placed around the stomach and chest to monitor breathing rate and patterns during this biofeedback.
  • Muscle activity: This type of biofeedback uses a machine that signals to help individuals become aware of muscle tension and learn to control it effectively. Muscle movement and tension are monitored using surface electromyography (sEMG), where sensors on the skin above specific muscles detect muscle activity.
  • Brain activity: This type of biofeedback, also known as neurofeedback, allows individuals to observe their brain waves and learn to change them to enhance their health and well-being. It uses an electroencephalogram (EEG), in which sensors attached to the scalp monitor electrical brain activity, detecting various brain waves associated with different mental states like relaxation, wakefulness, and sleep.
  • Sweat gland activity: Sensors, known as galvanic skin response (GSR) sensors, detect the amount of perspiration on the skin, which can indicate nervousness or stress levels. These sensors are attached to the fingers, palm, or wrist to measure sweat gland activity in biofeedback sessions.
  • Temperature: When stressed, blood flow to the skin decreases, causing a drop in temperature. Monitoring temperature changes through biofeedback can prompt relaxation techniques. As relaxation deepens, blood flow improves, and skin temperature may increase, indicating reduced stress levels. This type of biofeedback involves pads attached to the fingers or feet to measure blood flow and skin temperature.
  • Biofeedback machine: This type of biofeedback uses machines to measure physical changes in the body such as heart rate and skin responses using pads on the fingers or ears that connect to a computer.
    • Interactive computer programs or mobile devices: Research suggests that using these types of biofeedback machines can be effective in reducing stress and promoting a sense of calmness. These type of biofeedback measure physical changes in the body, such as heart rate and skin responses, via pads connected to the fingers or ears that link to a computer.

Interactive computer programs assist users in managing nervousness by guiding them through techniques like controlling breathing, relaxing muscles, and cultivating positive thoughts about their ability to cope with stress.

    • Wearable headband: This approach aims to assist individuals in learning to manage stress effectively. Progress is tracked over time as session data is stored on a computer or mobile device. Wearing this headband tracks brain activity during meditation, using auditory cues to signal calm or active states.
    • Other wearable devices: A measuring pad notifies the user if they are tense and offers breathing exercises to promote relaxation and calmness. The pad is often worn on the waist and breathing patterns are monitored through an app.

Reasons for undergoing the procedure

Biofeedback is a popular type of therapy because it can potentially reduce or eliminate the need for medications, enhances the effectiveness of medicines already being used, and offers an alternative when medications are not feasible. It also does not require surgery and gives individuals a sense of empowerment over their health outcomes.

According to studies, biofeedback therapy, also known as biofeedback training, may be used to manage the depression, asthma, stress, insomnia, headache, and constipation.

Other conditions include:

  • Adverse reactions to cancer treatment medications
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Depression, anxiety, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Motion sickness
  • Persistent pain, including persistent low back pain, persistent pelvic pain, and other pain conditions
  • Problems passing pee and urinary incontinence
  • Raynaud’s disease
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears

Risk

Biofeedback therapy is typically safe and noninvasive, with minimal known risks, side effects, or complications. However, it may not be suitable for everyone, particularly individuals with certain medical conditions such as heart issues or specific skin diseases. Consulting a healthcare provider before beginning biofeedback is crucial to ensure it is appropriate for your individual circumstances.

Before the procedure

Biofeedback utilizes operant conditioning principles, a learning approach employing rewards and punishments to modify behavior. It uses visual or auditory feedback to reinforce desired actions, facilitating behavioral changes. Healthcare providers choose suitable technologies to visualize muscle responses, enhancing the effectiveness of therapeutic strategies.

Before beginning treatment, it is recommended to:

  • Ask about the healthcare provider’s credentials, training, and experience with biofeedback for one’s specific concern
  • Inquire about the anticipated number of sessions and the costs involved
  • Check if biofeedback therapy is covered by an insurance plan
  • Request references from past clients to gauge the healthcare provider’s effectiveness
  • Ensure that the healthcare provider aligns with the needs and expectations before beginning treatment

During the procedure

Biofeedback sessions typically range from 30 to 60 minutes, varying according to the specific health issue and the individual’s ability to master self-regulation techniques. The procedure usually involves attaching electrical pads or sensors to various parts of the body to monitor different functions. These sensors can check brain waves, skin temperature, muscle tension, heart rate, and breathing patterns.

The sensors attached to body transmits data to a screen, enabling healthcare providers to assist individuals in regulating physiological responses. They then propose strategies to modify how the body functions, tailored to one’s specific reasons for undergoing biofeedback therapy.

For example, if tight muscles are detected, potentially causing headaches, techniques for muscle relaxation can be taught based on this feedback. This process helps individuals learn to control these bodily functions for better health and stress management.

Outcome

Biofeedback therapy is intended to complement rather than replace medical care, typically requiring multiple sessions. Many people perceive biofeedback as a form of training rather than a treatment. The goal of biofeedback therapy is generally for patients to achieve proficiency in applying specific techniques independently at home, without relying on external monitoring devices. Effective biofeedback can potentially improve health conditions and reduce the need for medication.

However, it’s important to continue visiting healthcare providers promptly for any health concerns, and to maintain prescribed medications regardless of the benefits experienced from biofeedback therapy.