Biofeedback therapy involves training patients to control physiological processes such as muscle tension, blood pressure, or heart rate.
These processes usually occur involuntarily, however, patients who receive help from a biofeedback therapist can learn how to completely manipulate them at will.
The three most common types of biofeedback therapy are:
- Thermal biofeedback - which measures skin temperature
- Electromyography - measures muscle tension
- Neurofeedback - measures brain wave activity
Biofeedback is particularly effective at treating conditions brought on by severe stress. When a person is stressed, their internal processes such as blood pressure can become irregular. Biofeedback therapy teaches these patients certain relaxation and mental exercises which can alleviate their symptoms.
Therapists can measure a patient's performance by attaching electrodes to their skin and displaying the processes on a monitor. Eventually patients learn how to control these processes without the need to be monitored.
During a biofeedback session electrodes will be attached to the patient's skin, which sends information to a monitoring box. The biofeedback therapist reads the measurements and through trial and error singles out mental activities that help regulate the patient's bodily processes.
Sessions are typically less than an hour long - most people will begin to see positive results after 8 sessions. However, some patients may need a as many as 50 sessions.
Biofeedback for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A team at East Carolina University is working toward a portable biofeedback training program that could prevent or reduce PTSD.
What is biofeedback used for?
There is a whole range of health conditions that experts believe can be treated with biofeedback therapy. In fact, it is a very popular choice over drugs, because it does not have any significant risks or cause undesirable side effects.
Other benefits of biofeedback therapy are that it is noninvasive and can be an alternative to medications, which is particularly useful for pregnant women.
Below are some examples of conditions and illnesses that may benefit from biofeedback therapy:
The Agency for Health Care Policy and Research currently recommends biofeedback therapy as an effective form of treatment for urinary incontinence, based on very promising findings in clinical studies.
Children's anxiety at the dentist's
Researchers at the Narayana Dental College and Hospital in India set out to determine whether biofeedback therapy might help control children's anxiety when receiving dental restorations. In the journal European Archives of Paediatric Dentistry they concluded "Biofeedback can be used in the initial visits for dentally anxious children and the usage of simpler biofeedback machines for these appointments in dental setup is suggested."
Some studies also indicate that thermal biofeedback can help alleviate symptoms of Raynaud's disease, with reports revealing that 80-90% of patients experienced improved circulation and a reduced frequency of symptoms after therapy.
Findings published in the Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, found that biofeedback treatment can successfully retrain muscles which cause chronic constipation.
The lead author of the study said "the study results show that bowel movement improvement is possible in nearly 80 percent of patients through biofeedback."
Scientists at the University of Lübeck in Germany found that electrical stimulation combined with biofeedback therapy helped patients with fecal incontinence.
They reported in the International Journal of Colorectal Disease that "There is sufficient evidence for the efficacy of BF (biofeedback) plus ES (electrical stimulation) combined in treating fecal incontinence. AM-MF (Amplitude-modulated medium-frequency) stimulation plus BF seems to be the most effective and safe treatment."
Cognitive and behavioral therapies
Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry, said biofeedback may open new avenues for cognitive and behavioral therapies; he was referring to a study that found people can control the activity of certain regions of the brain when they receive feedback signals by functional magnetic resonance brain imaging (fMRI).
Chronic rectal pain
Biofeedback is also more effective than two other treatments for a type of chronic rectal pain called levator ani syndrome, according to researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Nocturnal bruxism is the clenching, bracing, grinding or gnashing of the teeth and jaws during sleep.
A team at The Turner Dental Hospital, Manchester, UK, explained in the British Dental Journal that a range of treatment strategies have been used to control nocturnal bruxism, including hypnosis, splint therapy, acupuncture, occlusal equilibration and physical therapy.
Drs. R. Needham and S. J. Davies set out to determine what effect biofeedback might have on nocturnal bruxism. Trial participants were given the Grindcare device, a biofeedback device made by Medotech, and told to wear it every night for five weeks.
Out of the 19 patients in the study, eleven (58%) reported a significant reduction in the occurrence of headaches and jaw-muscle discomfort on waking up in the morning.
The study authors concluded "The use of biofeedback could reduce the level of parafunctional activity and bring about meaningful symptomatic improvement. No adverse effects occurred throughout the study period."
Persisting Childhood Apraxia of Speech
Apraxia of speech is a speech disorder in which the individual finds it hard to say what he/she wants to say correctly and consistently. It is not due to a defect in the speech muscles.
Researchers at Haskins Laboratories, Connecticut, USA, carried out a study to evaluate the effectiveness of a treatment program that included ultrasound biofeedback for children with childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) with persisting speech sound errors.
The six children, aged 9 to 15 years had 18 treatment sessions.
The study was published in the American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. The study authors concluded "A treatment program including ultrasound biofeedback is a viable option for improving speech sound accuracy in children with persisting errors associated with CAS."
Other conditions that biofeedback may also be useful for, include:
- Back pain
- High blood pressure
- Chronic pain
- Anorexia nervosa
- Learning disabilities
- Muscle spasms
- Motion sickness
In addition to treating certain health conditions, biofeedback therapy can be an integral part of performance optimization at the highest level. Sport psychologist Timothy Harkness used biofeedback training to help Abhinav Bindra win the gold medal in the 10 metres air rifle event at the Beijing Olympics.
Video - What is biofeedback and neurofeedback?