What Is Biofeedback Therapy And Will It Work For Me?
In 1969, a new concept called biofeedback was introduced at a conference held by the Biofeedback Research Society. Biofeedback was met with enthusiasm by both scientists and the consciousness awareness movement.
The interdisciplinary nature of biofeedback is part of what made it so unique and appealing. This new therapy promised to help people gain control over the body processes that were once thought to be involuntary, such as brain waves or pain perception.
Although this therapy seemed brand new to most of the world, the roots of biofeedback originate back to 1908 with research by Edmund Jacobson at Harvard. As Jacobson continued to investigate, his research evolved through the early 1930s. His research showed that progressive muscle relaxation could ease neurotic tension and several physical disorders.
The Development Of Biofeedback Therapy
The early work of Jacobson provided a framework for the development of biofeedback therapy. Another researcher, Johann Schultz, refined his contribution to the early development of biofeedback with his autogenic training. This technique used crude electrical equipment to produce low arousal that brought about a quieting effect on the autonomic nervous system. By the 1960s, these treatments had developed into biofeedback therapy which was introduced by the Biofeedback Research Society.
The study of biofeedback techniques by several medical specialties has led to the form of biofeedback available today. While there have been critics through the years—and critics today as well—there are many scientific reports that show this therapy is legitimate. The FDA has even approved a biofeedback device for personal home use, which can be used with or without a biofeedback practitioner, and many health insurance plans cover this type of therapy.
The Different Types Of Biofeedback
There are several different types of biofeedback that can be used to understand and control human physiology. Managing physiological functions provides the user the ability to alleviate symptoms of many different ailments and abnormal body functions, both mental and physical.
Below is a list of the different types of biofeedback used for therapy:
- Brainwave Biofeedback: An electroencephalogram (EEG) machine provides biofeedback on brainwave activity. Multiple sensors are placed on the head, and the machine gives feedback on brain wave activity. Brainwave biofeedback uses electrical sensors to help with conditions such as migraine headaches, as well as the pain and anxiety associated with them. This biofeedback is then used to learn how to manage the activity.
- Heart Rate Biofeedback: An electrocardiogram (EKG) machine is used to measure heart rate and heart rate variables. Sensors on the finger, earlobe, wrist, or chest provide information about heart rate and other variables that are used to learn how to read and maintain heart function. By maintaining heart function with the help of heart rate biofeedback, patients can start to see biofeedback results on their blood pressure and perceived stress and anxiety levels.
- Respiration Biofeedback: Bands are placed around the chest and abdomen to measure respiration rates and respiration patterns. The biofeedback from these bands is used to learn how to control respiration. This biofeedback can be particularly useful for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a condition that results from the combined effects of emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
- Muscle Biofeedback: An electromyography (EMG) machine uses sensors placed on the muscles to read the electrical activity created during muscle contraction. This biofeedback is then used to learn how to recognize and maintain muscle tension. This type of biofeedback therapy can be useful for targeting the specific muscle groups that usually respond the most dramatically or frequently to stressful stimuli, especially the shoulders, and jaw (medically known as the temporomandibular joint [TMJ]).
- Temperature Biofeedback: Blood flow to the skin is monitored using sensors on the finger or feet. This skin temperature biofeedback is used to recognize rising stress or tension levels. When a biofeedback therapist measures skin temperature, they are able to target stressors and triggers and then work with the patient to address these stressors and triggers.
- Perspiration Biofeedback: An electrodermograph (EDG) machine uses sensors on the fingers, palm, or wrist to measure perspiration on the skin. This biofeedback is used to recognize anxiety and stress via perspiration and changes in skin temperature.
Physical And Mental Conditions Treated With Biofeedback
Many physical and mental conditions can be treated with biofeedback, and biofeedback methods vary depending on what condition the patient needs to be treated. Biofeedback is used to treat many conditions, such as high blood pressure, Raynaud’s disease, urinary incontinence, and others. The following physical conditions may be improved with the proper use of biofeedback provided by a professional therapist or certified healthcare provider:
- High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure biofeedback can be used to help you control blood pressure. It will not cure any disease that is causing high blood pressure, but it can help you manage it and alleviate symptoms. Certain forms of high blood pressure, such as the high blood pressure that causes pulmonary hypertension, can be associated with Raynaud’s disease. Raynaud’s disease is characterized by limited blood flow to extremities, especially during periods of stress or cold temperatures. This condition is not typically dangerous, but it can cause chronic pain/discomfort.
- Headaches: Biofeedback can be used to alleviate headaches by helping to relax muscle tension, which in turn reduces pressure on small capillaries, which can cause headaches and chronic pain. Using biofeedback to reduce stress and relax muscles can help by alleviating the triggers for headaches in the first place. Head pain can be triggered by transmandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, and pain relief can be accomplished via pain management biofeedback therapy.
- Anxiety: Biofeedback can help you learn to control your body’s reaction to anxiety. This therapy can also alleviate the stress that triggers anxiety and reduce the severity of anxiety overall. With biofeedback testing, you can learn to manage your symptoms, which can be useful for those who have anxiety asthma.
- Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Biofeedback can improve focus, concentration, stress, and blood flow, helping you to control symptoms of ADHD.
- Asthma: Learning to control breathing using biofeedback can reduce the symptoms of asthma. Deep breathing during biofeedback sessions, in conjunction with control of other body functions, can help reduce the frequency and severity of asthma episodes.
- Fibromyalgia: Biofeedback can lessen the severity of the symptoms of fibromyalgia by providing the ability to relax muscles and change the perception of discomfort in general.
- Incontinence/Constipation: Incontinence biofeedback can lessen fecal incontinence, urinary incontinence, and constipation by providing better muscle control. Exercising and strengthening the pelvic floor muscles can help reduce the frequency of incontinence.
- Chronic Pain: Biofeedback can help alleviate chronic pain by changing the perception of pain. Pain management can be useful in learning how to live with conditions characterized by chronic pain.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): With biofeedback techniques, you can alleviate the symptoms of IBS triggered by stress and relieve the chronic pain associated with this condition.
- Stroke: Biofeedback works by delivering information about body systems, such as the central nervous system (CNS). This biofeedback can be used to help alleviate the symptoms of stroke and improve recovery. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke, so a biofeedback session to help lower high blood pressure can benefit people at risk of stroke.
Many psychological conditions are treatable with biofeedback. In general, biofeedback is about learning to control and manage the body and mind using thought. Many psychological disorders benefit from stress reduction, enhanced mental focus, and an improved mind-body connection. In some cases, mindfulness meditation is an effective technique.
Also, individuals with learning disabilities and other mental health conditions, such as ADHD, can benefit from an improved mind and body connection. When the mind and body are relaxed and clarity and focus are improved, learning has a chance to improve.
Depression and anxiety can improve, as can many other psychological conditions, when stress is reduced and mental acuity is improved. There is even research to show that using biofeedback may help relieve the symptoms of PTSD.
Instruments And Devices Used For Biofeedback
There are a number of biofeedback devices and programs that biofeedback therapists can use to identify the physical indicators of underlying problems. The following are the main instruments/tests used for administering biofeedback:
- Electrocardiogram (EKG): An EKG provides feedback on the heart, such as heart rate variability. This machine can give insight as to how fast your heart is beating, as well as any oscillations or abnormalities in the way that your heart is beating, especially in reaction to stress.
- Electroencephalogram (EEG): An EEG provides feedback on brain waves. This machine also allows a biofeedback therapist to see, in real-time, the speed and direction of brain waves, which can give them specific insight into brain functions, such as focus and response to input or stimuli.
- Electromyography (EMG): An EMG provides feedback on muscles and measures muscle contraction/tension. The results from this machine also allow a biofeedback therapist to see exactly where on the body the highest points of pressure, stress, and pain are occurring.
- Electrodermogram (EDG): An EDG provides feedback on perspiration levels as a result of skin temperature changes.
- Computer Programs. These programs help turn the information provided by the feedback machines into biofeedback to the patient. Interactive graphics and computer prompts provide guidance on practicing proper biofeedback techniques, and they provide feedback on progress/results. Any sensors used for biofeedback can be plugged into a computer to provide usable feedback through prompts and graphics.
- Mobile App: Some mobile apps track physiological events and changes using wearable sensors. They then provide the user with the feedback that is necessary to practice biofeedback techniques.
These tests and procedures of biofeedback therapy can provide valuable insight as to what is going on in a patient’s body. With input from biofeedback therapy, including the specific details about a patient’s respiration, heart rate, muscles, and perspiration, a biofeedback therapist can offer specialized treatment.
Does Biofeedback Work For Everyone?
Biofeedback is not a cure-all; it is used to enhance health by providing the patient with information they can use to develop a stronger mind-body connection. In terms of relief, biofeedback can benefit patients by providing them with the information and input necessary to become aware of their biological indicators, thus enabling them to better control these aspects of their physical health.
Everyone has the potential to benefit from biofeedback. In general, biofeedback therapy can help people with a wide array of symptoms, even though it doesn’t necessarily treat the underlying issues that may be causing those symptoms.
Results vary greatly when it comes to tests, procedures, and biofeedback therapy. Some individuals may gain more from this therapy than others. Results may depend on the severity of the problem and the understanding of the patient. There can also be a learning curve. Biofeedback is meant to help the patient gain a deeper understanding of their mind and body, and how well the information is applied to control body functions can vary.
When you search for a biofeedback therapist, you might keep in mind that there are less-than-reputable practitioners of biofeedback. You can ask about a therapist’s credentials before committing to a session. A reputable practitioner of biofeedback therapy may have credentials from by the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA) or the Association for Applied Psychophysiology & Biofeedback.
Also, before starting biofeedback therapy, remember that biofeedback cannot usually cure conditions, but it can ease symptoms and improve health. For a patient going through a severe condition, biofeedback will not cure the disease, but it may help the patient manage their negative emotions and provide some pain relief. Additionally, biofeedback cannot usually screen for disease or diagnose anything. In terms of risks, biofeedback is generally considered safe, as long as it’s being practiced by an accredited biofeedback therapist.
Therapists and other certified healthcare professionals can administer biofeedback therapy sessions. Anyone who practices biofeedback should be certified to do so. Biofeedback is a therapeutic modality that tends to work well alongside other traditional types of therapy, so it may be a great addition to other plans of treatment.
How Online Therapy Can Help
If you’re interested in learning more about biofeedback or therapy in general, you might try online therapy, which research has demonstrated to be just as effective as in-person therapy. With Regain, you can talk to a therapist from the comfort of your own home, which may be especially helpful if you’re experiencing pain or anxiety. You can choose your mode of communication, whether audio or video chat, and you can contact your therapist in between sessions via in-app messaging.
Biofeedback therapy can be effective for a wide array of conditions. No matter what physical or mental health symptoms you’re experiencing, you don’t have to face them alone. With Regain, you can be matched with a licensed therapist with experience treating whatever you’re going through. Take the first step to improved physical and mental health and reach out to Regain.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Is Biofeedback And How Does It Work?
Biofeedback can be defined as a process in which a person gains a greater understanding of their psychological and physiological bodily processes. This understanding can help people control certain body functions, such as pain perception and heart rate.
In order to conduct biofeedback therapy, trained medical professionals use different instruments to detect changes in body functions. It tends to be a noninvasive procedure, so biofeedback may benefit people who do not want to take medication or who want to take less medication. For example, biofeedback can help women who are pregnant and would like to handle certain symptoms but cannot take certain medications due to their pregnancy. For all guidance regarding medication, please speak to a licensed medical professional.
There are a growing number of biofeedback devices that are available for home use, or you can look into applied psychophysiology and biofeedback programs available from certified biofeedback practitioners.
In a biofeedback session, a therapist attaches electrical sensors to your body. Depending on the condition that you seek treatment for, the biofeedback devices may target different parts of the body. For example, sensors may monitor your skin temperature, brain waves, heart rate, muscle tension, and breathing. Biofeedback devices feed this information back to you via cues like a beeping monitor so that you become aware of how your body reacts to different stimuli.
Biofeedback lets you become aware of bodily changes that you might not otherwise notice so that you can learn to control them. For example, there might be one specific tense muscle that is causing headaches. Once you pinpoint the source of your pain, biofeedback therapy may help you relax that muscle gradually over time as you learn to feel it and control it.
The average biofeedback session lasts half an hour to an hour, but the length of the sessions with biofeedback practitioners may vary depending on your condition and needs. The frequency of biofeedback therapy sessions can also vary. A biofeedback therapist tends to schedule the sessions based on the nature of the concern being treated, as well as the progress that the patient makes throughout the course of the treatment.
What Is Biofeedback Therapy Used For?
Biofeedback can benefit people who need to gain a better grasp of their physiological and psychological conditions. This type of therapy has shown great promise in the treatment of a wide array of medical conditions, including chronic pain, anxiety, stroke, high blood pressure, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), asthma, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), headaches, and fibromyalgia.
There is evidence that biofeedback therapy helps treat these conditions in a noninvasive yet effective way. Common uses of biofeedback include treating patients who want to take less medication or who can no longer take their medication. For all guidance on medication, please consult a licensed medical professional. If you are interested in trying biofeedback therapy, you can look into biofeedback practitioners in your area.
Biofeedback practitioners have gone through biofeedback training and met certain certification requirements. These practitioners are often trained in another discipline, such as physical therapy, psychology, or nursing. For this reason, a certified practitioner may be able to help your condition in conjunction with other forms of therapy, physical therapy, or psychological assistance, depending on the severity of your condition.
There are biofeedback types that are available to do at home, and there are certain apps marketed as biofeedback solutions. However, it is best to talk to a professional about biofeedback therapy. You may find that in your case biofeedback is best practiced with a professional who has a number of biofeedback devices.
What Type Of Therapy Is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback can be thought of as an alternative therapy. The quantifiable measurements used during biofeedback therapy, such as measures of heart rate, brain waves, perspiration levels, etc., are used as constructive information for people looking to manage the symptoms of their medical conditions.
What Is The Process Of Biofeedback?
Biofeedback is a technique that helps you become more aware of your body. The process may vary depending on your needs, but certain devices are used to monitor your muscle tension, your brain waves, your breathing, your heart rate, etc. You can see or hear a monitor that gives you constant feedback about what is happening in your body.
Biofeedback can increase your awareness of what is going on inside your body. Over time, this practice can make a difference in many medical conditions. For example, if you want to lower your blood pressure, biofeedback may help. There are many other uses for biofeedback therapy, including using deep breathing and relaxation for anxiety or identifying a specific tensed muscle that could be leading to chronic pain. Biofeedback can be effective for a number of conditions, especially in conjunction with other procedures.
Does Biofeedback Really Work?
Biofeedback can be effective for a number of health conditions. Its founding dates back to Harvard in the early 1900s. However, it did not begin to gain popularity until the 1960s. Countless years of research findings have helped change this previously untrusted form of therapy into a mainstream technique that helps patients experience relief of a variety of symptoms. The effectiveness of biofeedback therapy may depend on the therapist and the condition you want to have treated.
What Are The Side Effects Of Biofeedback Therapy?
Generally speaking, biofeedback is considered a safe form of treatment. Various medical research institutions, such as the Mayo Clinic, have conducted studies in which no negative side effects were reported. However, prior to starting biofeedback therapy, you might check with your primary care physician to ask if it’s safe for you.
Does Biofeedback Help With Anxiety?
Biofeedback promotes relaxation by making you more aware of certain bodily functions, such as your heart rate, muscle tension, and breathing. Biofeedback can help treat many conditions, including anxiety. This form of therapy can help patients recognize their body’s reaction to anxiety. After learning the warning signs of an anxiety attack, patients may learn how to control their response.
How Long Does It Take For Biofeedback To Work?
Typically, a person needs to complete approximately 10 biofeedback sessions before making significant progress. However, with more complex conditions, more sessions may be needed to achieve desired results. Biofeedback therapy does not tend to work immediately. Patients can expect to attend several sessions before seeing the results of biofeedback therapy.
In addition to attending the sessions, patients usually have to spend some time outside of the scheduled sessions practicing and applying what they’ve learned during the biofeedback therapy sessions. This application usually comes in the form of deep breathing exercises, mindfulness of heart rate and thought processes, and muscle relaxation and stretching exercises.
Who Can Perform Biofeedback Therapy?
Many states do not require healthcare providers to have any special licensing in order to perform biofeedback therapeutic treatment. This means that physicians, psychologists, physical therapists, nurses, social workers, and other professionals can often practice this form of treatment. You might search for someone with credentials from the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (BCIA) or the Association for Applied Psychophysiology & Biofeedback.
What's The Difference Between Neurofeedback And Biofeedback?
Neurofeedback and biofeedback are related concepts, but not the same techniques. Listed below are the main characteristics of each treatment method:
Mainly used to treat psychological disorders and mental disorders
Used for performance enhancement
Uses EEG to detect brain waves, which are used to teach patients—via a feedback loop of the waves in the form of audio and/or video—how to think best and control their brain waves
Mainly used for management of bodily functions and pain management
Helps patients learn what they should do when symptoms occur
Helps people learn how to effectively manage their conditions
Can You Do Biofeedback At Home?
While traditional biofeedback treatment is primarily conducted in hospitals and medical centers, there have been new developments to help patients complete their therapeutic work at home. Biofeedback devices like EKG, EEG, and EMG machines are not available to at-home patients, but there are a few ways in which biofeedback treatment can be accomplished from the comfort of your home.
Interactive computer systems and other devices are sometimes used for biofeedback purposes. While these technological advances are promising, it may be preferable to engage in in-person biofeedback treatment if possible so that you can receive feedback and results in real time.
Even at home, biofeedback can help with various types of physical and emotional conditions. There are at-home treatments available, such as biofeedback for the following conditions:
High blood pressure
Anxiety or stress
Side effects from chemotherapy
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears
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