Biofeedback is a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that measures a person’s bodily processes and responses, such as heart rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, galvanic skin response (sweating) and muscle tension. Biofeedback equipment is used to take these measurements and provide “feedback”, hence the name.
Biofeedback doesn’t do anything to the subject being studied, but rather the equipment acts as a mirror to show them what they are doing. It’s useful in treatment a number of disorders, ranging from re-educating damaged nerves to certain types of epilepsy, but is most often used to treat irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic headaches, insomnia, hypertension, generalized stress, anxiety and TMJ. The treatment is a valuable option, because of its noninvasive nature, and can be used to train a person how to manage and change troublesome physical maladies.
Biofeedback involves using electronic instrumentation to monitor specific physiological activities that a person is often unaware of, as well as observe habit patterns of one’s body, which it then “feeds back” in the form of information. Once the subject is aware of what their body is doing, they are better able to change some of those patterns to reduce or eliminate their symptoms.
Some of the common biofeedback equipment used includes:
Muscle monitors (EMG or electromyograph) – the most common biofeedback measurement tool, used for relaxation training for tense muscles, re-education of injured muscles, and strengthening and training of certain muscles to improve incontinence.
Anti-tension devices – headphone-like devices that continuously monitor and average EMG activity in the forehead muscle and convert it into a pleasant tone to relieve tense facial muscles that can cause chronic headaches.
GSR and EDA devices – measure galvanic skin response (GSR) and electrodermal activity (EDA) as it increases and decreases in the autonomic nervous system, measuring subtle changes in the skin’s moisture, allowing a person to learn effective ‘whole body relaxation’.
HRV monitor – analyzes Heart Rate Variability (HRV), or heart rhythms, which can be particularly sensitive to changes in emotional state. This is a portable device that monitors heart rhythms and confirms when the subject has achieved autonomic nervous system balance, allowing the user to more effectively manage stress levels and negative emotions.
Respiration monitors – deliver certain kinds of breathing exercises shown to significantly lower blood pressure through effective breathing techniques. The device paces the user’s breathing from the normal 14-19 breaths-per-minute range to the “therapeutic range” of under 10 breaths per minute, by dilating muscles surrounding the small blood vessels, allowing blood to flow more freely and thus lowering blood pressure.
Somatic vision biofeedback games – allows the user to learn how to control their stress levels by showing relaxation levels with line-graphs, music volume changes, 3D interactive games and abstract visual displays.
EEG – An electroencephalogram (EEG) is a test to detect abnormalities in the brain’s electrical activity. Electrodes are placed on the scalp over multiple areas of the brain to detect and record electrical activity patterns. EEG biofeedback allows a person to learn to alter their own brain waves.
Through biofeedback training, it is possible to find relief from a wide range of conditions such as stress/panic disorders, anxiety, headaches, hypertension, colitis, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stroke, diabetic neuropathy, arthritis, HIV, cancer, incontinence, alcoholism/addiction, sleep disorders, depression, self-esteem problems, bruxism (teeth grinding, which leads to TMJ), attention deficit disorders (ADD/ADHD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette’s, conduct/rage disorders, learning disabilities, autism, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and epilepsy, among others.
Interest in biofeedback training has once again undergone a sort of resurgence with the general rise of exploration in CAM therapies. Neurofeedback has become a popular treatment for ADHD, EMG biofeedback has been widely studies and accepted as a suitable incontinence treatment, and small home biofeedback machines are now widely available for numerous uses.