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Biofeedback; Overview.

Biofeedback is a therapeutic technique that teaches you how to control physical responses, such as breathing, muscle tension, hand temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and brain activity that are not normally controlled voluntarily. This control is achieved by learning how to focus on and modify signals from your body. Biofeedback may be used to help people change the way their bodies respond to a variety of conditions, including chronic pain, stress and anxiety, to name a few. The skill typically is taught by a health care professional with expertise in the techniques and uses a handful of clinical, noninvasive instruments. Once you understand how the technique is applied, and after some practice, it is usually possible to use the skill independently.

To understand biofeedback, think of a thermometer-an external device that measures a physiological change. Biofeedback uses electronic or electromechanical instruments to monitor, measure, process and feed back information about blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate, brain waves and other physiological functions.

Audio and/or visual feedback signals reflect this activity. This gives you greater awareness and voluntary control: First you learn to control the external signal and, eventually, you learn to recognize and use internal cues.

Biofeedback is a relatively recent approach, first developed in the 1940s. The term came into use around 1969 to describe procedures that trained research subjects to alter brain activity, blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate and other "involuntary" bodily functions. The goal is to train you, primarily through relaxation techniques, to control physiological reactions that aren't working properly.

At first, biofeedback was viewed with skepticism, but it has been increasingly accepted by mainstream health care professionals and insurers. In the last 30 years, scientists have been exploring the mind/body connection. More acceptance and widespread use of biofeedback therapy has resulted.

Roughly half a million people have tried the technique, usually in conjunction with other therapies. Studies indicate that it is an effective therapy, and it is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Biofeedback is most helpful for conditions involving muscle tension. It's a particularly useful therapy for reducing stress and anxiety, and the NIH has approved its use in the treatment of chronic pain and insomnia. Biofeedback can be used as both a primary and secondary treatment. Secondary treatments are used in conjunction with traditional medicine. In these cases, biofeedback would be used to deal with the trauma or fear of having a disease like cancer, pain associated with the condition and for the nausea from chemotherapy. Biofeedback is a secondary treatment for diseases like multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease and other conditions that are not considered curable by biofeedback, although some symptoms of these conditions can be alleviated with this therapy.

There are at least 150 applications for biofeedback, and the list continues to grow. Below are the most common uses:

* addiction to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

* anxiety disorders

* asthma

* attention deficit disorder

* bruxism (teeth grinding)

* cardiac arrhythmia (abnormalities in heartbeat)

* chronic fatigue syndrome

* chronic pain

* circulatory problems (such as Raynaud's phenomenon)

* concentration improvement for education and meditation

* control of brain waves for spiritual development and inner tranquility

* diabetes

* epilepsy

* fecal incontinence

* fibromyalgia

* headaches (including migraines)

* high blood pressure

* insomnia

* irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders

* jaw pain and dysfunction (including temporomandibular joint syndrome)

* menopausal symptoms

* menstrual cramps

* migraine headaches

* mild depression

* nausea and motion sickness

* neuromuscular re-education

* paralysis, spinal cord injury and other movement disorders

* premenstrual syndrome

* stress

* torticollis (neck muscles contract involuntarily, causing the head to turn)

* Tourette's syndrome

* urinary incontinence

* vulvovaginal pain

New applications are being developed regularly. Perhaps most closely associated with stress reduction, biofeedback has also been shown to be effective for insomnia and chronic pain (including arthritis, muscle spasms and headaches). It has been shown to help those with Raynaud's disease (periodic loss of circulation in the fingers and/or feet). It is used to reduce tension, fatigue and anxiety; alleviate depression; and even help overcome alcoholism and drug addiction. It's also been used successfully for digestive disorders (such as difficulty swallowing, ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and acidity), blood-pressure problems and paralysis. In addition, it's been used for retraining and strengthening muscles after an accident, surgery or stroke.

Motion sickness is one of the newest applications. NASA used biofeedback to help astronauts deal with space sickness, and now the space agency's techniques are being used to help others who suffer from nausea, vomiting and motion sickness.

A particular type of biofeedback, called electroencephalographic (EEG) biofeedback, or neurotherapy, is used for a variety of conditions, including reducing hyperactivity and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Through neurotherapy, you learn to pay attention to brainwave activity and ultimately control it. However, the science surrounding the use of biofeedback for ADHD is still inconclusive, and you should be cautious about pursuing biofeedback for this condition.

Unlike many other approaches to health care, biofeedback puts you in charge. It requires you to learn from the signals your body sends and make changes accordingly. It even involves practice at home. And after you finish your biofeedback sessions, you need to use what you learned on a regular basis. You will use it, of course, to affect the condition. Daily practice, even when your symptoms responding to treatment, reinforces your skills. Depending on the condition you're trying to affect, your practice period may range from a couple of minutes intermittently during the day to half-hour sessions. You might focus on a particular muscle group, a hand-warming technique or on some other technique specific to your needs.

Biofeedback and Hypnosis

Many health professionals use both hypnosis and biofeedback, often together. In fact, it is impossible to teach biofeedback without also teaching a type of self hypnosis exercise, such as imagery-relaxation, progressive relaxation, or imagery change.

One benefit from using the combination of hypnotherapy and biofeedback is that the participant recognizes quickly that by changing his/her thinking he/she is changing physiologic responses. This encourages mental practice toward the goal of making a desired physiologic change permanent.

"Biofeedback." Biofeedback Certification Institute of America. http://www.bcia.org. Accessed May 2000.

"Integration of Behavioral and Relaxation Approaches Into The Treatment of Chronic Pain and Insomnia." National Institutes of Health Technology Assessment Conference Statement (1995). http://text.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed May 2000.

"Biofeedback." The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. http://www.aapb.org and http://www.aapb.org. Accessed September 2001.

Capps, S. "Biofeedback." Lecture. Psychology Department at Southwest Missouri State University. http://aloha.smsu.edu. Accessed May 2000.

"What is Biofeedback?" The BioResearch Institute. http://www.7hz.com. Accessed May 2000.

Biofeedback Foundation of Europe: http://www.bfe.org

Editorial Staff of the National Women's Health Resource Center 2002/10/11 2005/03/16 Biofeedback is a form of therapy used to train your mind to understand and (to a degree) control your own physiological responses. It's frequently used to help people cope with a myriad of conditions, including chronic pain, stress and anxiety to name a few. Biofeedback,Electrocardiograph,Electrodermal biofeedback,Electroencephalograph,Electromyography,Neurotherapy,respiration,therapy
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Publication:NWHRC Health Center - Biofeedback
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 16, 2005
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