Biofeedback is a mind-body technique that involves using visual or auditory feedback to gain control over involuntary bodily functions. This may include gaining voluntary control over such things as heart rate, muscle tension, blood flow, pain perception and blood pressure. This process involves being connected to a device with sensors that provide feedback about specific aspects of your body.
How Is Biofeedback Used?
Biofeedback can be used for a range of applications, including:
Treating tension headaches, migraines, and other pain
Controlling high and low blood pressure
Alleviating digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome
Helping patients control physical reactions to stress or anxiety
Aiding in relaxation and stress management
EEG feedback has also been shown to be effective in treating and managing symptoms of certain brain injuries, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Biofeedback is particularly useful for managing stress as well as symptoms of conditions that may be exacerbated by stress. For example, therapists might use biofeedback to help patients control their response to stress. Chronic stress can have a wide range of negative health effects including decreased immunity, heart disease, depression, digestive problems, and sleep disorders. By learning how to manage the stress response using biofeedback, patients are able to decrease the harmful physical and psychological effects of stress.
How it works?
There are three common types of biofeedback therapy:
Thermal biofeedback measures skin temperature.
Electromyography measures muscle tension.
Neurofeedback, or EEG biofeedback focuses on electrical brain activity.
During a biofeedback session, the therapist attaches electrodes to the patient's skin, and these send information to a monitoring box.
The therapist views the measurements on the monitor, and, through trial and error, identifies a range of mental activities and relaxation techniques that can help regulate the patient's bodily processes.
Eventually, patients learn how to control these processes without the need for monitoring.
How many sessions will I need?
Sessions typically last less than one hour.
Types of Biofeedback
There are many different types of biofeedback. The specific approach you choose to utilize might depend upon what you hope to accomplish and what your therapist or physician recommends.
Some of the available options include:
Breathing: Respiratory biofeedback involves wearing sensor bands around the chest and abdomen to monitor breathing rates and patterns. With training, people can learn to have greater control over their breathing rates which can help in a variety of situations.
Heart rate: This type is known as heart rate variability biofeedback and has been shown to be useful as a treatment for a number of different disorders including asthma and depression. Patients using this type of biofeedback wear a device connected to sensors in either the ears or fingers or sensors placed on the wrists, chest, or torso. These devices measure heart rate as well as heart rate variability.
Galvanic skin response: This type of biofeedback involves measuring the amount of sweat on the surface of the skin. Galvanic skin response, also known as skin conductance, is a useful marker for detecting levels of emotional arousal. Aside from the obvious thermoregulatory function of sweat, emotional stimulation can also easily trigger sweating. The more strongly people are aroused, the stronger their skin conductance will be.
Blood pressure: This type of biofeedback involves wearing a device that measures blood pressure. These devices provide information about the patient's blood pressure and often guide the user through relaxation techniques that may rely on visual cues, breathing exercises, or music. While such devices have gained popularity, one study reviewing eight previous trials did not find convincing evidence that this type of biofeedback has any lasting long-term impact on hypertension.
Skin temperature: In this form of biofeedback, patients wear sensors that detect blood flow to the skin. Because people often experience a drop in body temperature during times of stress, such devices can help people better detect when they are starting to feel distressed. A low reading on one of these monitors can indicate a need to utilize some stress management techniques.
Brain waves: This type of biofeedback, often referred to as neurofeedback, involves utilizing electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain wave activity. Scalp sensors are connected to an EEG device. Neurofeedback is sometimes used as a non-invasive treatment for ADHD, pain, addiction, anxiety, depression, and other disorders.
Muscle tension: In this type of biofeedback, sensors are placed at various points on the body and connected to an electromyography (EMG) device. This device detects changes in muscle tension over time by monitoring electrical activity that results in muscle contractions.