Every minute your heart is pumping blood, your liver is secreting acids, your kidneys are processing waste. But you are not conscious of all this mad activity. Your body efficiently slogs on without any external monitoring—except from the brain, which anyway is not under your control.
Now what if you were told that you can control your body's internal processes? At least to a certain degree. How will you react?
This is biofeedback, a science that claims to cure anything—from headaches to cerebral palsy—by giving us the power to 'manipulate' certain physiological as well as neurophysiological activities.
Biofeedback is a technique that trains people to improve their health by controlling certain bodily processes that normally happen involuntarily, such as heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and skin temperature. Electrodes attached to your skin measure these processes and display them on a monitor. With help from a biofeedback therapist, you can learn to change your heart rate or blood pressure, for example. At first you use the monitor to see your progress, but eventually you will be able to achieve success without the monitor or electrodes. Biofeedback is an effective therapy for many conditions, but it is primarily used to treat high blood pressure, tension headache, migraine headache, chronic pain, and urinary incontinence.
The three most commonly used forms of biofeedback therapy are:
- Electromyography (EMG), which measures muscle tension.
- Thermal biofeedback, which measures skin temperature.
- Neurofeedback or electroencephalography (EEG), which measures brain wave activity.
What is the rationale behind biofeedback?
The body reacts to stressful events by increasing the vigilance of the nervous system. The “fight or flight” response that evolved to help us deal with physical dangers is the same one that occurs when we are under emotional duress. When relief from a stressful environment is not forthcoming, the nervous system remains in this heighten-ed state of arousal. As a result, the associated physical responses (such as muscle tension, elevated heart rate, and increased blood pressure) become chronic. If this sequence of events continues unchecked, serious medical conditions (such as hypertension) may result. Medication may be helpful in controlling the symptoms of stress-related disorders; however, biofeedback addresses the root of the problem by breaking these habitual response patterns.
How does biofeedback work?
Researchers are not sure exactly how or why biofeedback works. However, there does seem to be at least one common thread: most people who benefit from biofeedback have conditions that are brought on or made worse by stress. For this reason, many scientists believe that relaxation is the key to successful biofeedback therapy. When your body is under chronic stress, internal processes like blood pressure become overactive. Guided by a biofeedback therapist, you can learn to lower your blood pressure through relaxation techniques and mental exercises. When you are successful, you see the results on the monitor, which encourages your efforts.
What happens during a biofeedback session?
In a normal biofeedback session, electrodes are attached to your skin. They send information to a small monitoring box that translates the measurements into a tone that varies in pitch, a visual meter that varies in brightness, or a computer screen that shows lines moving across a grid. The biofeedback therapist then leads you in mental exercises. Through trial and error, you can soon learn to identify the mental activities that will bring about the physical changes you want.
What is biofeedback good for?
Biofeedback seems to be effective for a range of health problems. For example, it shows promise for treating urinary incontinence. Some people choose biofeedback over drugs because of the lack of side effects. Based on findings in clinical studies, the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research has recommended biofeedback therapy as a treatment for urinary incontinence. It may also help people with fecal incontinence.
Research also suggests that thermal biofeedback may ease symptoms of Reynaud’s disease (a condition that causes reduced blood flow to fingers, toes, nose or ears) while EMG biofeedback has been shown to reduce pain, morning stiffness, and the number of tender points in people with fibromyalgia. A review of scientific clinical studies found that biofeedback may help people with insomnia fall asleep.
Biofeedback can also be used effectively in children. For example, EEG neurofeedback (especially when combined with cognitive therapy) has been reported to improve behavior and intelligence scores in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Biofeedback, combined with fiber in the diet, may help relieve abdominal pain in children. Thermal biofeedback helps relieve migraine and chronic tension headaches among children and teens as well.
Biofeedback may also be useful for the following health problems:
Epilepsy and related seizure disorders
High blood pressure
Sexual disorders, including pain with intercourse
Spinal cord injuries
How many sessions will I need?
Each session generally lasts less than 1 hour. The number of sessions required depends on the condition being treated. Many people start to see results within 8 - 10 sessions. Treatment of headache, incontinence, and Raynaud's disease requires at least 10 weekly sessions and some follow-up sessions as health improves. Conditions like high blood pressure, however, usually require 20 weekly biofeedback sessions before you see improvement. You will also be taught mental exercises and relaxation techniques that you can do at home for at least 5 - 10 minutes every day.
Benefits of biofeedback therapy:
Biofeedback therapy can be used to treat different conditions. Some of them are asthma, ADHD, high blood pressure, incontinence, headaches, cardiac arrhythmias, diabetes, epilepsy, and anxiety.
It is widely accepted as a treatment for incontinence disorders, especially bedwetting and to control hypertension in adults.
Some psychiatrists use biofeedback therapy as a training tool to help you in dealing with phobias.
Biofeedback therapy is also useful in maintaining some conditions like:
Treatment of insomnia
Controlling impulse behavior in patients with ADHD
Treatment of phobias and anxiety
Treating sleep disorders
Treating muscle tension
Treating spinal cord injuries
Different kinds of biofeedback therapies:
There are different kinds of biofeedback therapies used for different kinds of treatments. These treatment methods are most commonly used for measuring heart rates, galvanic skin tension, brain waves, muscle activity, pulse rate, perspiration levels, and body temperature.
Temperature biofeedback therapy – In this therapy sensors are attached to your finger or feet. Measures skin temperature and is used to treat circulatory disorders including high blood pressure and migraine headaches.
Electromyogram feedback – This therapy uses electrodes to measure muscle tension and also used to treat stress related illness. It is used especially to teach how to relax the muscles involved in neck pain, headaches, and backaches and grinding your teeth.
This therapy is used to treat the disorders including epilepsy, hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, and specific learning disabilities.
Galvanic skin tension biofeedback – This therapy measures the activity of sweat glands, and is used to treat anxiety related illness like phobias and stuttering.
Biofeedback migraine therapy – This therapy is completely safe for most of the people. Before, you should consult your health care provider who knows something about it.
What are the Patients' Responsibilities?
Biofeedback demands the patients to examine their day-to-day lives and to find out if they may be contributing to their own distress. They must commit themselves to practicing biofeedback or relaxation exercises every day, change bad habits and even ease up on some good ones. They must accept responsibility for maintaining their own health.
Relaxation is a key component in biofeedback treatment of many disorders. Stressful events produce strong emotions, which arouse certain physical responses. Many of these responses are controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, the network of nerve tissues that helps prepare the body to meet emergencies and this may be by ‘flight or fight.’ Normally, people calm down when a stressful event is over especially if they have done something to cope with it.
Individuals differ in the way they respond to stress. In some, one function, such as blood pressure, becomes more active while others remain normal. These individual physical responses to stress can become habitual. When the body is repeatedly aroused, one or more functions may become permanently overactive eventually causing damage to body tissues.
Biofeedback is often aimed at changing habitual reactions to stress that can cause pain or disease. Feedback of physical responses such as skin temperature and muscle tension provides information to help patients recognize a relaxed state.
The value of a feedback signal as information and reward may be even greater in the treatment of patients with paralyzed or spastic muscles. The signals can guide the exercises that help patients regain use of their limbs. The feedback convinces patients that the limbs are still alive. This reassurance often encourages them to continue their efforts.
How to Get Started with Biofeedback
There are some ways in which you’re probably already using a very simple form of biofeedback:
Physical Awareness: Some physical responses can be easily sensed without equipment, of course. When your body becomes tense, that’s a natural message that you’re stressed. Shallow breathing can be another. Becoming aware of your body’s stress signals can arguably be a sort of natural form of ‘biofeedback’.
Household Tools: Scales, thermometers, and even mirrors can tell you about some of your body’s functioning by pointing out excess weight, fevers, and visible signs of stress like acne.
Both of these methods tell you about your physiology and help you to know that healthy changes are required, but are only the tip of the iceberg. Traditional biofeedback usually involves much more sophisticated measurements that can change more rapidly and are more difficult for the lay person to detect on their own. Usually, standard biofeedback necessitates the use of a biofeedback technician—a therapist or health professional—but recently, home biofeedback equipment has become readily available to consumers.
There are also many biofeedback practitioners out there who can help you understand how your physiology is responding to stress, and help you to perfect strategies to calm your body and your mind, and stay healthier in the process. One of the best ways to find a good practitioner is to ask your doctor for a referral.
How to Choose a Bio Feedback Therapy Practitioner and Cautions:
Most biofeedback therapists are licensed physicians, clinical psychologists, or other healthcare professionals who have taken special training in this technique. The Biofeedback Certification Institute of America in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, provides the major certification program for biofeedback practitioners. Look for a therapist who has experience treating the particular problem for which you are seeking help, and choose someone you feel comfortable with. Remember that the success of the treatment will depend in part on the level of trust you are able to develop with your therapist. Your primary-care physician also may be able to give you a referral to a biofeedback therapist. Many health insurance palns now provide partial coverage for biofeedback therapy.
Bio Feedback Therapy: Cautions
If you wear a pacemaker or have a serious heart disorder, consult your doctor before undertaking biofeedback.
Biofeedback can help people with diabetes control their circulation but it could also change the need for insulin and other medicines. Be sure to monitor blood sugar carefully if you are using this therapy.
Biofeedback devices sold for home use vary widely in quality. Ask a physician or biofeedback therapist for advice about a good brand before making a purchase.
What results can I expect?
Individual results depend on a variety of factors, including the severity and chronicity of the condition, what medication has been prescribed (if any), the presence of other concurrent medical factors and, ultimately, your level of motivation. Some disorders can be successfully treated in 6-10 sessions; others require more extensive treatment. Learning to change body functions is a skill which requires regular practice to achieve and maintain a lessening of symptoms.
If you think you might benefit from biofeedback, you should discuss it with your primary care physician or other health care professional to determine whether or not your condition requires conventional medical treatment first. An important fact to keep in mind is that biofeedback is a learning process, and therefore proficiency takes time.
Author Brief – Dr. Ashish arora is a consultant homoeopathic physician who is known amongst his patients for his politeness and his counseling skills. Other than the medical profession Dr. Ashish is very passionate for pencil sketching and photography.