What is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback explained by Denver, Golden, Aurora, Boulder, Broomfield, Jefferson, and Littleton Colorado’s top pain doctors
Biofeedback is a minimally invasive chronic pain treatment that is also used for a variety of conditions. Biofeedback was developed based on the concept that the way individuals think can influence processes in the body and that this may occur consciously or subconsciously. For instance, painful experiences can put extra stress on the body as well as the mind. Furthermore, stress is associated with physiological changes in the body such as muscle tension and an increase in blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. Symptoms such as muscle tension or heightened respiration can exacerbate pain and this process becomes a feedback loop that makes it difficult for an individual to experience long-term pain relief without some form of intervention. Biofeedback provides an opportunity to break the stress-pain cycle.
This technique is also called biofeedback training and it involves teaching patients how to reduce pain by regulating different physiological processes through visual cues. After the patients have been successfully trained, they can begin to recognize the triggers that cause or increase their pain. This allows patients to have a certain level of control of their body’s response to pain, and in some cases, this leads to a significant decrease in chronic pain flare-ups.
How is Biofeedback Performed?
Biofeedback is described as a safe technique that does not require surgery or medication, and it is often recommended as an alternative approach when other treatment methods have not been effective at decreasing chronic pain. There are different forms of biofeedback and most involve attaching sensors or electrodes to the skin. The training sessions usually take up to eight weeks to complete when patients attend one to two sessions per week. Reports indicate that patients are able to benefit from the biofeedback training long after completing the program.
During biofeedback training, specialized instruments that are designed to measure different autonomic functions such as brain activity, respiration, heart rate, or muscle tone are connected to the patients. The readings are displayed on a computer screen so the patients can view them in real time. Patients are trained to regulate their internal processes with the help of the visual readings and techniques that trained biofeedback technicians teach them.
Techniques that are commonly used for biofeedback include:
- Electroencephalography (EEG) that measures brain wave activity
- Electromyography (EMG) that measures muscle tension
- Galvanic skin response (GSR) that measures the accumulation of moisture on the surface of the skin
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) that measures heart rate and changes in heart rate
- Thermal feedback that measures skin temperature
The type of biofeedback training that will be utilized depends on the patient’s medical profile. For example, a thermal feedback recording would be recommended for individuals who chronically suffer from migraines. Moreover, biofeedback is becoming the preferred treatment method for many individuals because it avoids the use of medication and more invasive techniques. Biofeedback has also been reported as an effective approach that reduces the severity of pain by hindering the negative impact that stress can have on physiological processes in the body.
Conditions Related To Biofeedback
Research that evaluated the effectiveness of biofeedback training has indicated that this technique may be useful for numerous conditions. For instance, individuals who successfully completed biofeedback training have experienced health benefits for a variety of conditions such as headaches, migraines, urinary and fecal incontinence, fibromyalgia, insomnia, stress, and high blood pressure.
Additional research has also indicated that biofeedback is beneficial for treating:
- Back pain
- Chronic pain
- Family stress
- Muscle spasms
- Sexual disorders
Biofeedback is an alternative treatment that is becoming increasingly popular. It involves teaching patients how to regulate autonomic processes in their body through the use of visual feedback that allows them to visualize their readings (e.g. blood pressure, heart rate) in real-time. The training helps patient learn how to recognize when stressful factors begin to trigger a pain response in their body and how to engage in relaxation techniques that have the ability to reduce the harmful effects that stress can have on a patient’s condition.
Evidence suggests that participating in biofeedback training in order to manage chronic pain has long-lasting and beneficial effects on future pain flare-ups. Biofeedback is typically considered to be a safe procedure that does not cause side effects, but the utilization of this technique is dependent upon a patient’s condition and medical profile.
- 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.