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
- Thermal feedback which assesses skin temperature
The type of biofeedback used for each patient is determined by the condition that they are being treated for. For example, patients who suffer from chronic migraines are often treated with the thermal feedback protocol.
It is believed that biofeedback training is an effective treatment option for patients suffering with chronic pain.
It helps to reduce the severity of pain by reducing the negative impact that stress has on the physiological processes within the body. It is sometimes a preferred treatment method, as it does not involve the use of any medications.
Conditions Related To Biofeedback
Studies that have investigated biofeedback training have suggested that it may be an effective treatment option for a wide array of health problems. Completion of a biofeedback training program has been proven beneficial for patients suffering from incontinence (fecal and urinary), headaches
, migraines, insomnia, high blood pressure, and fibromyalgia
In addition, other studies have found that biofeedback is effective for the treatment of mental health issues (including anxiety and depression), chronic pain, back pain, asthma, muscle spasm, constipation, and sexual disorders.
Biofeedback training is a minimally invasive, alternative treatment option that involves teaching patients coping skills to modify their autonomic nervous system response by utilizing visual feedback of various internal bodily functions.
After successful completion of a biofeedback training program, patients are able to recognize the effects that stress has on their autonomic nervous system. They are then able to use relaxation techniques to reduce the negative effects of the stress placed on their body.
There is some evidence to suggest that receiving biofeedback training for chronic pain management can have lasting benefits that will help control future pain episodes.
- Andrasik F. Biofeedback in headache: An overview of approaches and evidence. Cleve Clin J Med. 2010;77(3):S72-6.
- Buse DC, Andrasik F. Behavioral medicine for migraine. Neurol Clin. 2009;27(2):445-65.
- Costilla VC, Foxx-Orenstein AE, Mayer AP, Cromwell MD. Office-based management of fecal incontinence. Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2013;9(7):423-33.
- Glick RM, Greco CM. Biofeedback and primary care. Prim Care. 2010;37(1):91-103.
- Mauskop A. Nonmedication, alternative, and complementary treatments for migraine. CONTINUUM: Lifelong Learning In Neurology. 2012;18(4):796-806.
- Sousa K, Orfale A, Meireles S, Leite J, Natour J. Assessment of a biofeedback program to treat chronic low back pain. Journal Of Musculoskeletal Pain. 2009;17(4):369-377.
- Whitehead W, Drossman D. Biofeedback for disorders of elimination: Fecal incontinence and pelvic floor dyssynergia. Professional Psychology: Research And Practice. 1996;27(3):234-240.