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Biofeedback therapy is a type of training program with the goal of teaching patients to control involuntary physiological processes — meaning those that are both mental and physical — that contribute to painful symptoms and distress. A report published in Mental Health in Family Medicine words the biofeedback definition as “a mind–body technique in which individuals learn how to modify their physiology for the purpose of improving physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health.”
Biofeedback therapy is sometimes used to manage high blood pressure, muscle pain or tension, anxiety, IBS symptoms and insomnia. What do so many of these health problems have in common? They’re triggered, or at least made worse by, chronic stress. For that reason, some experts believe that biofeedback is beneficial and able improve overall health and wellness because it’s effective as a natural stress relieving technique.
How Does Biofeedback Therapy Work?
Here’s an overview of what you can expect from a biofeedback therapy session:
A trained biofeedback therapist first takes an assessment of a patient’s condition, usually by performing several tests. These tests help the practitioner determine how their symptoms might be minimized by learning to manipulate involuntary physical and mental behaviors.
Biofeedback requires specialized equipment. A biofeedback machine converts physiological signals (like heartbeats and brainwaves) into meaningful information that the patient can understand. The types of tests that are frequently used in biofeedback therapies are those that measure skin temperature, heart rate, muscle tension and brainwave activities. Biofeedback machines that are used to performed these tests include skin surface scans, electromyography and MRI brain scans.
Currently, the most popular type of biofeedback therapy performed by doctors is called “electroencephalographic neurofeedback.” Anxiety disorders are the number one type of health problem treated through this biofeedback training, although other popular uses include pain management. In many biofeedback settings, small electrodes are attached to a patient’s skin. This sends feedback to a visible monitor, tracking and displaying the patient’s physiological symptoms.
Because sessions require active patient participation, biofeedback therapy is somewhat similar to certain aspects of physical therapy (PT). Like PT, biofeedback training usually involves practicing at home between sessions, includes some trial and error to determine what works best and requires patience on the part of the patient.
Most biofeedback therapy sessions take about 30 to 60 minutes. The typical course of treatment usually lasts two to three months in order to provide the most benefits. Some patients, however, choose to participate in biofeedback therapy for much longer, sometimes even for years. The goal is for the patient to be able to practice self-regulation techniques that they’ve learned from their therapist on their own, even after formal sessions end and the monitoring machines are no longer used.
Who Benefits from Biofeedback Therapy?
Psychologists and sports trainers have been using biofeedback for decades. Cleveland Clinic is in the midst of a large study looking at expanding the use of biofeedback to three populations of patients in need — those with coronary artery disease, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Research continues to mount in favor of using biofeedback to improve these patients’ quality of life.
Conditions that are commonly treated with biofeedback therapies now include:
*Muscle tension or spasms
*Urinary incontinence (frequent urges to urinate)
*High blood pressure (hypertension)
*Tension or migraine headaches
*TMJ symptoms (temporomandibular joint dysfunction)
*Trouble sleeping or insomnia
*Digestive symptoms including constipation, IBS and diarrhea
*Anxiety and depression
*ADHD and autism spectrum disorders
*And just about any other condition made worse by stress
Those who could especially benefit from biofeedback training include:
*Anyone undergoing conventional treatment without a response
*People who are intolerant to medications or contraindicated
*Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding
*Patients who value self?control and being involved in their own therapy