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Biofeedback Therapy: Types, Procedure & Uses

Biofeedback is a technique that helps you connect to electrical sensors that allow you to receive information about your body. This technique involves making subtle changes in your body to achieve results that you want, for example - reducing pain [1] . A technique such as this gives you the ability to practice new ways to control your body so that the overall wellness can be improved.

Studies have shown that biofeedback therapy can help in the treatment of a wide range of health conditions such as high blood pressure, migraine headache, tension headache, chronic pain and urinary incontinence.

Read on to gain more insight into how biofeedback therapy works.

What Is Biofeedback Therapy?

The process of using a non-drug treatment by patients wherein they learn to control bodily functions that are otherwise involuntary is known as biofeedback therapy. This therapy is usually applied to the control of muscle tension, heart rate and blood pressure [2] .

Being noninvasive in nature (without the involvement of drugs), this therapy is considered the best with low risk of undesirable side effects [3] . This therapy seems to be perfect for those who wish to avoid medications and especially for those who cannot use them such as pregnant women. This therapy is most of the time combined with relaxation training.

Types Of Biofeedback

A therapist might use a variety of biofeedback methods depending on your health condition and the goals to achieve. The following are the various types of biofeedback available [4] :

  • Breathing: Respiratory biofeedback uses bands that are placed around the patient's abdomen and chest. This helps in monitoring the breathing patterns and respiration rate.
  • Brain waves: Scalp sensors are used to monitor the brain waves using an electroencephalograph.
  • Muscle contraction: Sensors are placed over the skeletal muscles of patients with an electromyograph. This is used to monitor the electrical activity that causes muscle contraction.
  • Heart rate: In this, finger or earlobe sensors are used with a device that can detect blood volume changes. Another technique is to place sensors on the patient's chest, wrists or lower torso. An ECG is then used to measure the heart rate and how your heart rate varies.
  • Sweat gland activity: Sensors are attached around the fingers or on the palm or wrist with an electrodermograph. This measures the activity of the sweat glands and the amount of perspiration on the skin.
  • Temperature: Sensors are attached to the fingers and feet. These measure blood flow to the skin. When one is under stress, the temperature drops and hence there is a low reading. This is a signal to begin relaxation techniques. This is also known as thermal biofeedback.

How Biofeedback Therapy Works

  • During the feedback session, the therapist would attach electrodes to the patient's skin [5] . These are responsible for sending information to a monitoring box. The therapist would view the measurements on the monitor. A trial and error method is applied to identify a range of mental activities and its corresponding relaxation techniques [6] so that the patient's bodily processes can be regulated. Slowly the patients would themselves learn how to control these processes without the need for monitoring.
  • The biofeedback therapy sessions last less than one hour. You might require 10 to 20 sessions before you start seeing results. Alongside the biofeedback therapy sessions, you will also need to follow mental and relaxation activities that can be easily completed at home and would not take you longer than 10 minutes.

Uses Of Biofeedback Therapy

This therapy can help in the management of various physical and mental health issues. Some of them are as follows [7] :

  • Urinary incontinence [8]
  • Stroke
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Irritable bowel syndrome [9]
  • Chemotherapy side effects
  • Asthma
  • Anxiety/stress
  • Hyperactivity disorder [10]
  • Chronic pain [11]
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Raynaud's disease [12]
  • Fibromyalgia
  • High blood pressure
  • Ringing in the ears
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder
  • Diabetes
  • Back pain
  • Motion sickness

Relaxation Exercises Used In Biofeedback Therapy

The therapist would help you practice relaxation exercises, which is helpful for controlling different body functions. The following different relaxation techniques are used in biofeedback therapy:

  • Deep breathing [13]
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (alternate tightening and relaxing of muscles) [14]
  • Guided imagery (concentrate on specific image to focus your mind and relax) [15]
  • Mindfulness meditation (letting go of negative emotions) [16]

Benefits Of Biofeedback Therapy

People find this therapy beneficial for the following reasons [17] :

  • It is noninvasive
  • It helps people feel more in control of their health
  • It tends to enhance the beneficial effects of medicines
  • It might reduce or eliminate the need for medicines
  • It helps women who might not be able to take medicines during pregnancy or breastfeeding

Risks Of Biofeedback Therapy

Being noninvasive, this therapy is considered generally safe. No negative side effects have been reported till date. However, this therapy might not be meant for everyone. It is essential that you take to your general healthcare provider before seeking this therapy.

View Article References
  1. [1] Frank, D. L., Khorshid, L., Kiffer, J. F., Moravec, C. S., & McKee, M. G. (2010). Biofeedback in medicine: who, when, why and how?.Mental health in family medicine,7(2), 85–91.
  2. [2] Sattar, F. A., & Valdiya, P. S. (2017). BIOFEEDBACK IN MEDICAL PRACTICE.Medical journal, Armed Forces India,55(1), 51–54.
  3. [3] Banerjee, S., & Argáez, C. (2017). Neurofeedback and Biofeedback for Mood and Anxiety Disorders: A Review of Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines.
  4. [4] Giggins, O. M., Persson, U. M., & Caulfield, B. (2013). Biofeedback in rehabilitation.Journal of neuroengineering and rehabilitation,10, 60.
  5. [5] Banerjee, S., & Argáez, C. (2017). Neurofeedback and Biofeedback for Mood and Anxiety Disorders: A Review of Clinical Effectiveness and Guidelines.
  6. [6] Libo, L. M., & Arnold, G. E. (1983). Relaxation practice after biofeedback therapy: A long-term follow-up study of utilization and effectiveness.Biofeedback and self-regulation,8(2), 217-227.
  7. [7] Ratanasiripong, P., Kaewboonchoo, O., Ratanasiripong, N., Hanklang, S., & Chumchai, P. (2015). Biofeedback Intervention for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression among Graduate Students in Public Health Nursing.Nursing research and practice,2015, 160746.
  8. [8] Dillon, B., & Zimmern, P. (2012). Biofeedback for the Treatment of Stress Urinary Incontinence: A Viable option for Select Patients.Nephro-urology monthly,4(2), 421–422.
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  10. [10] Sudnawa, K. K., Chirdkiatgumchai, V., Ruangdaraganon, N., Khongkhatithum, C., Udomsubpayakul, U., Jirayucharoensak, S., & Israsena, P. (2018). Effectiveness of neurofeedback versus medication for attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder.Pediatrics International,60(9), 828-834.
  11. [11] Sielski, R., Rief, W., & Glombiewski, J. A. (2017). Efficacy of biofeedback in chronic back pain: a meta-analysis.International journal of behavioral medicine,24(1), 25-41.
  12. [12] Yocum, D. E., Hodes, R., Sundstrom, W. R., & Cleeland, C. S. (1985). Use of biofeedback training in treatment of Raynaud's disease and phenomenon.The Journal of rheumatology,12(1), 90-93.
  13. [13] Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B., & Gemignani, A. (2018). How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing.Frontiers in human neuroscience,12, 353.
  14. [14] Ramasamy, S., Panneerselvam, S., Govindharaj, P., Kumar, A., & Nayak, R. (2018). Progressive muscle relaxation technique on anxiety and depression among persons affected by leprosy.Journal of exercise rehabilitation,14(3), 375–381.
  15. [15] Case, L. K., Jackson, P., Kinkel, R., & Mills, P. J. (2018). Guided Imagery Improves Mood, Fatigue, and Quality of Life in Individuals With Multiple Sclerosis: An Exploratory Efficacy Trial of Healing Light Guided Imagery.Journal of evidence-based integrative medicine,23, 2515690X17748744.
  16. [16] Laneri, D., Schuster, V., Dietsche, B., Jansen, A., Ott, U., & Sommer, J. (2016). Effects of Long-Term Mindfulness Meditation on Brain's White Matter Microstructure and its Aging.Frontiers in aging neuroscience,7, 254.
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Story first published: Saturday, May 11, 2019, 12:00 [IST]