In the last century, and especially in the last few decades alone, there has been a constant flow of medical and scientific discoveries being made. When paired with the mind-boggling technological advancements taking place, we end up with significant developments in regards to creating groundbreaking and innovative treatments.
One such development is biofeedback, a process created by mixing technology with alternative healing methodologies.
What Is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback is a process whereby electronic monitoring of a normally automatic bodily function is used to train someone to acquire voluntary control of that function.
Those who practice alternative healing techniques believe that “energy” based practices can produce the same results as medication can.
In the case of biofeedback, the idea is that receiving specific pieces of information about your bodily functions can, in time, help you make the necessary changes in your physical and mental behaviour required to adjust and control these functions. This method focuses highly on the belief in the power of the connection between the mind and the body’s physical state.
Essentially, it is an approach to learning how to control functions that your bodily typically carries out on it’s own, such as heart rate, muscle tension, blood pressure, etc. by first practicing various mental activities and relaxation techniques to regulate these functions while being monitored.
How Does It Work?
Biofeedback works through a variety of electrical sensors placed on one’s body that are hooked up to monitors that display feedback on how one’s body is responding to different stimuli.
The purpose of these sensors is to measure how that individual’s body reacts to stress. This does not necessarily mean how one’s body reacts when they are stressed, but rather the physical stress their body may experience due to other illnesses or conditions.
A biofeedback therapist will suggest certain exercises and relaxation techniques for the individual to try based on the problem being addressed. This may include breathing techniques, meditation, or a variety of muscle tightening and loosening exercises.
The therapist will then observe how these exercise are affecting the individual’s monitor readings and can tweak the exercises, or try new ones, until they begin seeing the desired change in the body’s responses.
There are multiple specialized forms of biofeedback currently in practice; each form uses a different type of sensor, reads different responses, and is helpful in treating different issues.
The three most popular types of biofeedback are neurofeedback, muscle tension feedback, and thermal feedback.
Types of Biofeedback
- Neuro Feedback
This method uses sensors placed on one’s scalp to monitor brain waves using an electroencephalograph (EEG).
Most commonly, this method is used to treat ADHD symptoms, but can also be useful when treating a range of brain-related conditions, such as: addiction, anxiety, autism, depression, Schizophrenia, epilepsy, insomnia, etc.
- Respiratory Feedback
This method involves sensor bands being placed around one’s abdomen and chest in order to monitor the individuals breathing patterns and respiration rate.
This type of feedback has been the most successful when treating issues such as panic disorders and asthma, as well as promoting better general heart health due to better breathing habits.
- Heart Rate Feedback
During a heart rate biofeedback session, finger and/or earlobe sensors with a device called a photoplethysmograph, or chest/torso/or wrist sensors using an electrocardiograph (ECG) are used to measure one’s heart rate and heart rate variability.
Blood pressure control and stress/anxiety reduction are two of the most common issues addressed using this type of biofeedback, but it has also been successfully used for other purposes, such as improving athletic performance.
- Muscle Tension Feedback
This technique involves placing sensors over one’s skeletal muscles (the muscles that produce all of the movements of body parts in relation to one another through voluntary movements) and using an electromyograph (EMG) to monitor the electrical activity that causes muscle contraction.
This method is commonly used to treat conditions such as epilepsy, movement disorders (such as Parkinson’s), migraines, arthritis, or stress, and is even used to help patients during surgical recuperation.
- Sweat Gland Feedback
This type of biofeedback uses an electrodermograph (EDG), with sensors attached to one’s fingers, palms, or wrists, to measure the activity of the individual’s sweat glands and the amount of perspiration on their skin.
Sweat gland feedback is most useful when treating conditions such as anxiety or stress.
- Thermal Feedback
During thermal biofeedback, sensors are attached to fingers or feet and are used to measure the blood flow to their skin.
Temperature often drops when an individual is under stress, meaning this is a good method to use in order to practice certain relaxation techniques.
As mentioned earlier, the devices used during biofeedback are typically a combination of sensors that are either attached to the individual or worn by the individual and the monitors that display the information gathered by these sensors.
The sensors most commonly used are the ones placed on one’s finger, scalp, or muscles, or the bands worn around one’s chest.
There are also a number of biofeedback devices available for home use. These are portable electronic devices that monitor different aspects of your body’s response system. These devices can help you with relaxation and changing behaviours that cause stress to your body without having to spend time and money on visiting the therapist’s office.
It is important to know, however, that not all home devices available are approved by the FDA. Not only are some of these devices not FDA approved, but many of the devices marketed make false claims of what they are capable of and the results they will provide.
If you are planning on purchasing a home-use biofeedback device, don’t forget to speak with your doctor about it first, and ensure you do the proper research required before choosing which device to buy.
What to Expect
Biofeedback sessions can range in length, typically from 60-90 minutes. The first session is typically a consultation with the therapist; during this consultation the therapist and the patient will discuss the problems that need to be treated, possible exercises and methods that may be used, potential outcomes, etc.
The number of sessions required will vary from patient to patient, with most patients needing an average of at least 10 sessions until they are capable of effectively implementing the control techniques without being monitored. This, however, is highly dependent on the condition being treated and the efficiency with which the patient learns.
During these sessions one can expect to be hooked up to one of the aforementioned types of sensors; the type of sensor used during the sessions is dependent on the condition the patient needs treated, because this dictates which bodily function is being monitored.
These sensors will be hooked up to different types of machines that will, most commonly, either beep or flash while displaying their body’s readings.
While hooked up to these machines, the therapist will have the patient practice a variety of different relaxation techniques or exercises, and will adjust these accordingly based on the changes that they make in the sensors readings.
Biofeedback does not necessarily work for everyone, and results are not guaranteed. However, if biofeedback therapy does work for you, there are a few results you may see.
First, it can help you learn how to control various symptoms you may be experiencing due to the issue being addressed (whether it be a mental of physical health problem).
Next, it can reduce or eliminate the amount of medication that was previously required to treat aforementioned symptoms.
Note that even if biofeedback is successful for you, it may not negate certain treatments you are currently receiving for the issue at hand.
Why Use Biofeedback?
There are a multitude of reasons why one may choose to try biofeedback therapy.
The main appeal of biofeedback therapy, also commonly referred to as biofeedback training, is that it can be used to help manage a variety of both physical and mental health conditions.
Some of the health conditions this type of therapy is most often used for include: anxiety/stress, asthma, headaches/migraines, various bowel problems, high blood pressure, and motion sickness.
While biofeedback therapy may not fully cure these conditions, it can help with relaxation, reduce symptoms caused by the conditions, and can even help in reducing the amount of medication needed to combat those symptoms.
Not only are the results of biofeedback desirable, but this type of therapy is attractive for a number of other reasons.
One of the largest draws to this type of treatment is that it is totally non-invasive. It does not require any surgeries, injections, etc.
It is also a great option for those who need alternatives to medications that haven’t worked, medications they cannot take, or those who simply do not want to be taking medications for one reason or another.
If biofeedback therapy is successful, it can give one the feeling of taking charge of their health. Feeling in control of your body can work wonders in terms of relieving stress and anxiety.
Giving It A Try
Biofeedback therapy is an amazing blend of technological advancement and alternative healing that has made waves in the medical world.
While monitoring and displaying your body’s various functions through sensors, you can learn to control these otherwise involuntary functions through a series of exercises by adjusting your exercises based on how your body is reacting to them.
Learning to control different bodily functions can have many positive impacts on your health. It can reduce stress, anxiety, aches and pains, and can even reduce symptoms of various mental and physical health issues you may be facing.
Biofeedback is a great option for anyone wanting to address these issues in an alternative, non-invasive, medicine-free way.
If successful, biofeedback therapy can reduce the amount of medications you need to treat the health issues you are targeting, and can give you a better sense of control over your body.
If biofeedback therapy is something that interests you, talk to your doctor about it. Your doctor can help you understand if and how this type of treatment can work for you, can refer to you a therapist, or can give you advice on the different home-use biofeedback devices available on the market.
There are very little risks involved with biofeedback therapy, so if it seems like something that can help with an issue you are facing, there is little reason not to give it a try.