Have you ever wished you could make your headaches go away, keep your blood pressure under control, or manage chronic pain without the use of medication? What if you could manage these issues on your own without constant visits to the doctor’s office? Biofeedback offers an avenue for patients seeking a solution to certain internal problems, without the use of medication. Not only that, but biofeedback is well represented in the medical community by the psychologists,
Changing one’s physiology isn’t easy, but in a time when medicine is overused and sometimes poses excessive side effects and even health threats for interactions, a non-medicine solution may just be the best way to go. Biofeedback teaches patients to change their physiology in order to manage a number of different physical and mental health conditions.
A Typical Biofeedback Session
There are several types of biofeedback which cater to an individual’s specific needs. The biofeedback administrator may choose to use one or more of the biofeedback methods in order to best record and teach biofeedback methods. Electromyogram or EMG is used to measure an individual’s muscle tension. Backaches, muscle aches, neck pain, jaw pain or teeth grinding, and headaches may all be treated through the use of muscle relaxation. Since the EMG shows when the muscles tense up, a real time record is given to the patient when their muscles are tensing. By learning to recognize the feeling of one’s muscles tensing they can then learn how to relax them as necessary. This can greatly alleviate aches and pains, as well as problems that may be induced by stress or worsened by it, such as ulcers and anxiety (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2008).
The next form of biofeedback is Electroencephalogram or EEG. The EEG is administered in the same way as the EMG, through the use of electrodes. EEGs are used to monitor brain waves or brain activity. An EEG can indicate one’s state of relaxation, restlessness, calmness, and various states of sleep. Through the patient’s understanding of these, they are able to better control each of the aforementioned states. This can aid in the treatment of sleep disorders like insomnia.
Biofeedback electrodes also monitor body temperature through attachments on the fingers and feet. Body temperature can indicate stress responses which, like muscle tension, can help to inform the patient when they need to relax. As aforementioned, relaxation can aid in pain in the back, neck, head, and with stress responses such as clinching the teeth (which can also lead to jaw pain and jaw problems). Body temperature can also indicate circulatory problems for which techniques can help to reduce. The key is being able to determine when body temperature changes are taking place in order to counter the internal changes consciously.
The last of the biofeedback types is Galvanic Skin Response. Skin response sensors measure the amount of perspiration on the skin and the activity of the sweat glands in order to monitor anxiety levels. The patient, as with the other biofeedback monitors, is then taught to be aware of when sweat gland activity is high in order to combat mental disorders such as anxiety disorders and phobias. The Mayo Clinic (2008), also notes the usefulness of the Galvanic Skin Response in treating stuttering.
While biofeedback has shown great results, the consensus is that as of yet scientists are not entirely sure why. Results do show that biofeedback offers viable help and can even cause patients to cut down on their medications or go off them entirely. However, it is up to the patient to dedicate their time to going to sessions (which generally last 30-60 minutes). Some problems can take as few as ten sessions, while other conditions require 20 or more before improvement is seen. Still, biofeedback can help conditions that have not previously been aided by other methods, including medication. Additionally, the University of Maryland Medical Center notes that session include time in which administrators will teach individual’s relaxation techniques and mental exercises that help the patient to control the internal processes being monitored.
Biofeedback has been found to be safe, yet there are some restrictions on candidates that the Mayo Clinic (2008) notes. Those suffering from depression, psychosis, or another major mental condition are generally not considered as participants for biofeedback. Additionally, physicians will have to check on medications being taken and any possible interactions. Still, biofeedback is considered a safe procedure and no specific major negative side effects are noted, besides the aforementioned medicine interactions.
Chiras, D., D. (2005). Human Biology, 5th Ed. Sudbury, MA. Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Inc.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2008). Biofeedback: Using Your Mind to Improve your Health. Retrieved January 23, 2008, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/biofeedback/SA00083
University of Maryland Medical Center. (2007). Biofeedback. Retrieved January 23, 2008, from http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/biofeedback-000349.htm