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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 by changing thought processes, to control physiologic responses.

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.

Studies indicate that it is an effective therapy. Its use is supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for treatment of a range of illnesses and ailments.

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; the pain associated with the condition; and 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 some of those uses:

addiction to alcohol, tobacco and other drugs

anxiety disorders


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



fecal incontinence


headaches (including migraines)

high blood pressure


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


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

Tourette's syndrome

urinary incontinence

vulvovaginal pain

Although biofeedback is perhaps most closely associated with stress relief, new applications are being developed regularly. In addition to the above conditions, biofeedback 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 and fatigue and alleviate mild depression.

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.

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 regularly. You will use it, of course, to affect the condition. Daily practice, even when your symptoms are 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 changing thinking changes physiologic responses. This encourages mental practice toward the goal of making a desired physiologic change permanent.


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"Integration of Behavioral and Relaxation Approaches Into The Treatment of Chronic Pain and Insomnia." National Institutes of Health Technology Assessment Conference Statement (1995). Accessed May 2000.

"Biofeedback." The Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. and Accessed September 2001.

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Biofeedback Foundation of Europe:

Keywords: biofeedback, blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, physiological, stress, anxiety, secondary treatment, hypnosis
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Publication:NWHRC Health Center - Biofeedback
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 19, 2008
Previous Article:Biofeedback; Key Q&A.
Next Article:Biofeedback; Diagnosis.

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