Biofeedback refers to a set of procedures designed to give you feedback on your biology ("bio - feedback"), in order to help you gain increased control over your bodily functions such as heart rate, muscle tension, and blood pressure.
With increased awareness (feedback), you can learn to control some aspects of your physiology that you would not ordinarily be able to control. Using special equipment to provide feedback through a computer monitor, people have learned to control or influence the following:
- Muscle tension, through EMG biofeedback, to decrease some types of pain.
- Blood pressure, through different types of measures, to decrease cardiac strain.
- Peripheral blood flow, which can be helpful for migraine headaches and Raynaud's disease.
- Migraines have stress as one of their main triggers. The physical effects of stress on the body and brain are probably key. Through biofeedback one can learn to decrease stress on a physical level. Biofeedback is also one technique for learning how to rest mentally. Chronic migraines (those that are present at least 15 days per month) often involve increased muscle tension at the head, and learning to relax these muscles can often help.
- Temporomandibular dysfunction (TMJ) typically involves, as one component, increased tension in the muscles involved in chewing – at the jaw, temples, and above and behind the ear, with secondary problems at the back or sides of the neck. Learning to relax these muscles can be helpful in treatment, often in combination with physical therapy.
- Myofascial pain. Muscle tension is usually elevated in the region of trigger points. Feedback can be used in combination with physical therapy to learn to relax the muscles while stretching them. In cases where fibromyalgia has developed gradually out of a more localized muscle pain, treating the myofascial pain will sometimes help the fibromyalgia.
- Tension-type headaches seem to be primarily due to a reduction in pain thresholds, but chronic pain input from muscle tension at the head, neck, and shoulders can contribute to this.
- Post-traumatic headaches. Chronic headaches that are caused by a head injury usually have several contributors to the pain. One of these is sometimes chronic muscle bracing and guarding in the area of the injury. In these cases, learning to reduce muscle tension can often give control over the pain.
- Unlike EMG testing, no needles are used. The sensor is a flat disk attached to the surface of the skin with an adhesive pad.
- Unlike a TENS unit, no electricity enters your body. Similar to an EKG, the sensor is reading the electrical output of the underlying muscle.
Success rates vary for each disorder. For example, published reports of controlled studies generally indicate that of those with migraine headaches, approximately 50% of the individuals that learn biofeedback and related skills experience at least a 50% reduction in headache frequency; success tends to be even stronger when behavioral skills are combined with appropriate medications such as propranolol/Inderal.
For more information, please see the headache and pain treatment portions of this website, or access Dr. Borkum's book and enter the search term "biofeedback".
Active vs. Passive Treatment. At Health Psych Maine, when we use biofeedback, we focus on teaching that skill to you in a way that the skill "generalizes," and becomes "portable," so that you eventually do not need the equipment and can apply the skills in your real life without the aid of the equipment.
Biofeedback-assisted relaxation training
. For some problems, we use biofeedback to assist a person in learning relaxation skills. With anxiety disorders
, for example, biofeedback per se is not necessary for treatment, but relaxation skills are often an important building block. In those cases, we may use biofeedback briefly to assist in learning general relaxation skills.