by Nicole Berardoni M.D, Tory McJunkin M.D, and Paul Lynch M.D.
Biofeedback is an exciting non-invasive, approach to treating a variety of conditions by being in control over your body’s response to stress. It has been long known that stress can exacerbate chronic pain. Biofeedback utilizes self-control to help effectively deal with stress. This method focuses on using your mind to control your body’s physiological response in order to promote well-being from within. Stress-related disorders are found to be the most responsive to biofeedback training. Conditions such as migraines (Ciancarelli 2007), tension headaches, digestive disorders, anxiety, insomnia, Raynaud’s disease, hypertension, jaw/teeth grinding, and chronic pain disorders may be effectively treated. Recent studies have also shown biofeedback to be effective treating other conditions like urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (Fox 2005), and stroke recovery (Nelson 2007).
During a biofeedback session, the physician or therapist will apply several sensors to different areas on your body. These sensors monitor your body’s physiological response to stress and you will become mentally aware of your body’s changes. Some of the parameters commonly monitored are:
- Brain activity – An electroencephalogram (EEG) monitors the activity of brain waves during different mental states and responses to certain conditions.
- Blood pressure – Your blood pressure can often dramatically rise when faced with stressful conditions.
- Muscle tension – Electromyography (EMG) measures muscle tension. EMG is used to promote the relaxation of those muscles involved in back pain, neck pain, headaches, and certain conditions that are responsive to stress such as ulcers.
- Heart rate – Your heart rate typically increases requiring more oxygen when you face a stressful situation.
- Skin temperature – Because body temperature drops when the body is under stress, a low change in temperature can alert you to begin relaxation techniques. Temperature biofeedback can help treat certain circulatory disorders, like migraines.
- Sweat production – Galvanic skin response measures the activity of your sweat glands on your skin. This response can be directly influenced by emotional disorders such as phobias and anxiety.
By visualizing your body’s physiological changes on a monitor, biofeedback enables you to recognize these changes and learn to control them. The method is similar to that of positive reinforcement. When one of the parameters changes, you either hear (auditory) or see (visual) changes on a monitor, which gives you feedback. You begin to associate your body’s response with certain physiological functions. By monitoring these changes you become aware of your body’s stressors, and when that happens, a biofeedback therapist helps you to discover methods that correct the negative responses to stress and illness that your body produces.
Biofeedback has proved successful for many people because of the positive effects it can have to individuals. Biofeedback can enable you to decrease the need for certain medications and can reduce your medical costs. Perhaps the largest benefit of biofeedback is the degree of control you learn as you monitor and control your response to stressors involved in your life. These skills putt you in control of your body. Biofeedback not only works to improve your physical function; it works to heal your mind and soul as well. This technique has shown to have a positive impact in self-confidence, self-control, and stress reduction. Instant physiological changes as a result of your mental activity allows for treatment success. For many conditions biofeedback has positive effects on your mental and physical function (Nelson 2007).
Although biofeedback is considered safe as with all treatment techniques, there are always risks involved. People with acute psychiatric illnesses or severe depression should not begin biofeedback therapy until they are stabilized. Also, patients with severe hypertension not receiving medicine should not use biofeedback as their only source of treatment. In addition, it is dangerous for diabetics and people with other endocrine disorders to use biofeedback without being monitored by their physician because it can alter your need for insulin and other hormones in the body.
Biofeedback helps you gain control over your body‘s physiological responses to certain conditions. The modern and exciting idea of mind-body medicine is rapidly expanding throughout the world and is being widely used in conjunction with Western Medicine to treat numerous disorders. An assortment of research studies and controlled trials have shown that biofeedback therapy is a valid means of initiating relaxation, treating certain conditions, and decreasing the timeline of recovery with rehabilitation. In 2007 a study focusing on the treatment of cancer-related pain in advanced cancer patients stated that EMG biofeedback provides better pain relief in patients when used in conjunction with pain medications than when pain medication are used alone (Tsai 2007). Another common pain disorder, Migraines, have been effectively treated with biofeedback. The effectiveness of biofeedback in limiting chronic migraines may be due to muscular relaxation, decreased oxidative stress, as well as an increase in their psychological well-being (Ciancarelli 2007). The treatment for urine and fecal incontinence by biofeedback therapy has been well-documented as a success but little is known about factors that may be associated with its effectiveness. More than 70% of patients in a large clinical trial showed an improvement in their symptoms after several session of biofeedback. Treatment success was more likely in those who completed six training sessions, were female, or had more severe incontinence. Patients who were less likely to complete treatment were male, younger, or had a milder form of incontinence (Byrne 2007). Another well-known condition that is effectively treated with biofeedback is the recovery following a stroke. Biofeedback has been applied to many aspects of stroke rehabilitation. Biofeedback seems to have a very positive response to people who have difficulty with swallowing, muscle activity, attention, and cortical functioning following a stroke. Biofeedback effecting both mental aspects as well as physical aspects can have a very positive impact, even through indirect improvements (Nelson 2007) The past few years have shown biofeedback research to flourish as scientist have examined conditions amenable to treatment. Hypertension, anxiety, Multiple Sclerosis, and Diabetes are among the many that are being looked into. Recently it has been found that the behavior in patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) improved in children whose parents favored a non-pharmacological treatment (Fuchs 2003), and is currently being considered an alternative treatment for these patients (Fox 2005). If you think that you or someone you know may benefit from this contemporary and mind-powering treatment please contact Arizona Pain Specialists today to speak with a physician about biofeedback therapy.
Effects of electromyography biofeedback-assisted relaxation on pain in patients with advanced cancer in a palliative care unit. Tsai PS, Chen PL, Lai YL, Lee MB, Lin CC. Cancer Nurs. 2007 Sep-Oct;30(5):347-53 Neurofeedback treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children: a comparison with methylphenidate. Fuchs T, Birbaumer N, Lutzenberger W, Gruzelier JH, Kaiser J. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2003 Mar;28(1):1-12 Neurofeedback: an alternative and efficacious treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Fox DJ, Tharp DF, Fox LC. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. 2005 Dec;30(4):365-73 Biofeedback for fecal incontinence: short-term outcomes of 513 consecutive patients and predictors of successful treatment. Byrne CM, Solomon MJ, Young JM, Rex J, Merlino CL. Dis Colon Rectum. 2007 Apr;50(4):417-27 Relationship between biofeedback and oxidative stress in patients with chronic migraine. Cephalalgia. 2007 Aug 24; Department of Neurology, University of L’Aquila, L’Aquila, Italy The role of biofeedback in stroke rehabilitation: past and future directions. Nelson LA. Top Stroke Rehabil. 2007 Jul-Aug; 14(4):59-66. PMID: 17698458