What Is Biofeedback?Biofeedback is a minimally invasive treatment option that can be utilized for the management of many conditions, including chronic pain. Biofeedback was developed based on the belief that what occurs within the body can be affected by our thinking. Pain causes stress, not only to the body, but to the mind as well.
Stress has been associated with numerous physiological changes within the body such as an increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased muscle tension, and an increased respiration rate. These physiological changes have all been found to exacerbate pain. A feedback loop is created as the result of the relationship between stress, physiologic changes, and pain, which makes it difficult for a patient to break the pain cycle without intervention. Biofeedback therapy allows a patient to potentially break the pain cycle.
Biofeedback is often referred to as biofeedback training and involves training patients, systematically, on how to alter certain physiological processes within their body by using visual cues (feedback). After successful biofeedback training, patients are able to recognize their body’s response to pain and have more control over their physiologic responses. This ideally allows a patient to have more control over the severity of their pain symptoms.
How Is Biofeedback Performed?Biofeedback does not utilize medication or surgery and is therefore regarded as a safe treatment option. Biofeedback training is an appealing option for patients who have not responded to other types of conservative treatment options for their chronic pain symptoms.
There are many different types of biofeedback, most of which involve the use of sensors or electrodes attached to the skin. Most biofeedback training programs consist of one to two visits per week for approximately eight weeks. A few studies have suggested that the benefits gained by patients during these biofeedback-training programs continue far beyond their initial training. However, more research is needed to support this suggestion.
During biofeedback training, patients are connected to instruments that accurately measure certain autonomic functions such as respiration, heart rate, muscle tone, and brain wave activity. The patient’s internal responses are displayed, in real time, on a computer screen. The patient is then trained to alter their internal responses by using the visual representation, in addition to specialized techniques taught by biofeedback technicians.
The most commonly used forms of biofeedback training are:
- Electromyography (EMG) which assesses muscle tension
- Electroencephalography (EEG) which assesses brain wave activity
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) which assesses heart rate and heart rate variability
- Galvanic skin response (GSR) which assesses skin surface moisture