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Understanding Biofeedback Therapy in Detail

A non-drug treatment is called Biofeedback therapy. In this therapy, a patient learns to control bodily processes typically involuntarily. Here’s what you need to know about Biofeedback.

Biofeedback therapy helps in various conditions such as urinary incontinence, high blood pressure, chronic pain, migraine headache, etc. Even though the therapy is non-invasive and does not involve drugs, it still involves a low risk of undesirable side effects.

The therapy is suitable for patients who wish to avoid medications or cannot use them, such as during pregnancy. It often gets combined with relaxation training.

Let’s get in-depth and learn more about Biofeedback in detail.

Biofeedback’s history and interesting facts

Biofeedback has been used clinically to increase physiological function and self-control since at least the 1970s. However, biofeedback machines have advanced significantly in four decades—biofeedback learning focus on detecting brainwaves, muscle tension, temperature, sleep, and the cardiovascular system.

Biofeedback is an effective mind-body therapy by the National Institute of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. According to surveys, roughly 38% of adults and 12% of children in the United States use alternative therapy based on biofeedback training principles.

For example, meditation training, yoga, self-imagery techniques, and deep breathing exercises all incorporate elements of feedback and reinforcement.

How does biofeedback therapy work?

Thermal Biofeedback, Electromyography, Neurofeedback, or EGG biofeedback are the three common types of biofeedback treatment. The functions of these three therapies are as follows:

  • Skin temperature gets measured in Thermal Biofeedback

  • Muscle tension gets measured in Electromyography

  • Neurofeedback or EGG biofeedback focuses on electrical brain activity

Patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) get help with EGG biofeedback. The patient gets relief from addiction, seizures, depression, anxiety, and other brain conditions with EGG biofeedback.

The therapist attaches electrodes to the patient’s skin during a therapy session, and this electrode sends information to a monitoring box. Through trial and error, the therapist identifies the patient’s range of mental activities after viewing the measurements on the monitor. The therapist then identifies the relaxation techniques that can help regulate the patient’s bodily process.

Biofeedback types

Depending on your health issues and goals, your therapist may employ a range of biofeedback therapy training. Types of Biofeedback include:

  • Brain waves

An electroencephalograph measures your brain waves using scalp sensors (EEG).

  • Breathing

During respiratory Biofeedback, bands are wrapped over your belly and chest to monitor your breathing patterns and respiration rate.

  • Heart rate

This method combines finger or earlobe sensors with a device that monitors changes in blood volume (photoplethysmograph).

An electrocardiograph (ECG) is used by sensors on your chest, lower torso, or wrists to measure your heart rate and how it varies.

  • Muscle contraction

This method involves using an electromyograph (EMG) to monitor the electrical activity that produces muscular contraction by placing sensors across your skeletal muscles.

  • Sweat gland function

An electrodermograph (EDG) sensor fitted around your fingers or on your palm or wrist measures the activity of your sweat glands and the amount of perspiration on your skin, alerting you to worry.

  • Temperature

This method measures blood flow to your skin using sensors connected to your fingers or feet. Because your temperature drops when you’re stressed, a low number may urge you to start practicing relaxation techniques.

How many sessions are required?

Typically a session lasts less than one hour. Most of the time, a patient feels relieved in 8 to 10 sessions. Other times, improvements can be seen and felt after 20 or more biofeedback therapy training sessions. The patient will also complete mental and relaxation activities at home for 5 to 10 minutes daily alongside these therapy sessions.

Uses of therapy

Biofeedback benefits people with conditions such as stress, as per the studies. The internal process becomes irregular such as a rise or fall in blood pressure when they experience stress. The therapy teaches relaxation and mental exercise that helps in alleviating symptoms.

  • ADHD

As per studies, EGG biofeedback or neurofeedback helps people with ADHD.

  • Migraine

People often seek biofeedback and relaxation techniques to treat conditions such as migraines and headaches, but the studies show mixed results when calculating the effectiveness of therapy.

A study conducted in Japan in 2015 found biofeedback therapy could reduce the frequency and severity of symptoms in patients experiencing migraine headaches. However, other research conducted in 2009 reported that relaxation benefits patients with migraine headaches, but combining relaxation with Biofeedback does not produce additional benefits.

  • Urinary incontinence

The Agency for Health Care Policy and Research recently recommended training for treating pelvic floor muscle with therapy for urinary incontinence, based on findings in clinical studies.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder

Certain types of biofeedback treatment help patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A recent study found that adding heart-variability therapy to standard PTSD did not improve a patient’s condition.

However, in 2016 significant reductions in PTSD symptoms were reported using EEG Biofeedback in 17 patients with PTSD.

  • Chronic constipation

Biofeedback treatment has proved to show better results when compared to the use of laxatives for chronic constipation. The therapy can successfully retrain the muscles that cause chronic constipation.

  • Raynaud’s disease

A condition that causes some parts of the body to feel calm and numb in emotional stress and cold temperature is called Raynaud’s disease. The disease is a cause of problems with blood supply to the skin. Thermal Biofeedback in studies indicated that the therapy could alleviate symptoms of Raynaud’s disease.

The Raynaud’s Association reports that 70-90% of patients with Raynaud’s disease experienced reduced symptoms and improved blood circulation after therapy.

  • Other conditions

Patients with other conditions that may benefit from therapy include:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Chronic pain

  • Motion sickness

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • Muscle spasms

  • Anorexia nervosa

  • Asthma

  • Back pain

  • Learning disabilities

Sports participants can optimize their performance with the help of therapy.

Understanding Biofeedback Therapy in Detail

How do you prepare?

Biofeedback does not necessitate any additional preparation.

To locate a biofeedback therapist, contact your doctor or another health care practitioner familiar with biofeedback treatment to recommend someone who has treated patients with your problem.

Many biofeedback practitioners also have a background in other fields of medicine, such as psychology, nursing, or physical therapy.

State regulations governing biofeedback practitioners differ. Some biofeedback practitioners opt to become certified to demonstrate their additional training and expertise in the field.

Before beginning therapy, ask the biofeedback practitioner the following questions:

  • Are you certified, licensed, or registered?

  • What are your education and experience?

  • Do you have any previous experience with giving Biofeedback for my condition?

  • How many biofeedback sessions do you believe I will require?

  • How much does it cost, and is it covered by health insurance?

  • Could you please provide a list of references?

What to expect during the process?

A therapist attaches an electrical sensor to various regions of your body during a biofeedback session. These sensors might track your brain waves, skin temperature, muscular tension, heart rate, and breathing. This data is relayed to you through indicators like changes on a monitor, a beeping sound, or a flashing light.

The feedback teaches you how to manage or adjust your body’s reactions by changing your thoughts, emotions, or behavior. It may be beneficial to the condition for which you sought treatment.

Biofeedback, for example, can identify tense muscles that are producing headaches. You will then learn how to make conscious physical modifications in your body to lessen pain, such as relaxing specific muscles. The ultimate goal of Biofeedback is to learn how to apply these techniques on your own at home.

A therapy session usually lasts between 30 and 60 minutes. Your condition and how quickly you learn to control your physical responses decide the length and number of sessions. Insurance might not cover Biofeedback.

Neurofeedback vs. biofeedback

  • Neurofeedback is a sort of biofeedback treatment. It is currently the most popular form of biofeedback training in the United States.

  • Another term for “neurofeedback” is electroencephalography (EEG) feedback. Neurofeedback is a sort of Biofeedback that uses an electroencephalogram, or EEG, to monitor brain waves (electrical brain activity).

  • EEGs aid in determining how the activity in various brain regions increases or decreases in response to a person’s actions. It aids in self-regulation training, and self-regulation allows for greater control over one’s stress response caused by central nervous system activity (specifically the autonomic nervous system).

  • A fundamental tenet of neurofeedback is that electrical “oscillations” (such as theta or beta waves) influence awareness, arousal, and ability to operate — and that malfunctioning activity in specific critical regions of the brain correlate with mental problems.

  • Like other types of Biofeedback, neurofeedback treats problems exacerbated by stress and brain dysregulation. Examples are anxiety-depression spectrum disorders, attention impairments, behavioral disorders, sleep disorders, headaches and migraines, PMS, and emotional disturbances.

Benefits of therapy

  • Reduces headaches

Clinical studies have demonstrated that Biofeedback Physical therapy helps reduce the frequency and severity of tension and migraine headaches because it can reduce someone’s stress reaction.

According to one Harvard Medical School study, biofeedback training helped many patients reduce their reliance on pain drugs and experience less discomfort overall. (However, researchers discovered similar advantages when teaching patients general relaxation strategies without utilizing Biofeedback.)

Patients in the Harvard study were also taught pain theories and relaxation techniques. A portion of the participants also received further training in biofeedback training.

In the first 12 months, all patients saw a statistically significant reduction in the frequency and severity of headaches; this advantage lasted for 36 months. In addition, both groups reported lower medication use and lower medical care costs.

  • Helps with constipation

Therapy is a well-established treatment option for patients suffering from persistent constipation (including dyssynergic defecation and fecal incontinence). According to randomized controlled trials, 70 to 80% of all patients who receive specialist biofeedback training in treatment centers reported improvement in symptoms.

Therapists are now using Biofeedback to teach individuals with recurring constipation how to perceive better and control their digestive tract muscles associated with bowel movements.

Biofeedback procedures, for example, treat reduced rectal sensation and inadequate capacity to contract abdominal muscles. Although there are still barriers to Biofeedback in the general population (such as a lack of insurance coverage, distance to local treatment facilities, and acute medical issues), researchers are working on improving ways to provide therapy to those with severe digestive complaints at an affordable cost.

Another study discovered that home-based and office-based biofeedback treatment improved “the frequency of complete spontaneous bowel movements per week as well as patient satisfaction with bowel function.” This type of research can potentially expand the availability of therapy through home sessions while maintaining efficacy.

  • Reduces anxiety

Biofeedback assists patients in becoming more aware of how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors interact. It is why it is usually used in conjunction with other therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or mindfulness meditation training to lessen someone’s stress reaction.

In contrast to other forms of treatment, such as drugs, Biofeedback is a training process. Biofeedback therapists encourage patients to become more aware of how stress affects their bodies.

Anxiety, for example, causes a person’s heart rate to increase, muscles to tense, and mind to worry. As a result, sleeping and relaxing become harder. Relaxation is best enforced when symptoms are actively tracked and learned to lessen repeatedly, utilizing feedback as a guide.

  • Reduces both chronic and acute pain

Finding non-pharmacological ways to treat short-term (acute) and chronic pain is now more crucial than ever, given the increased focus on the addictive potential of pain-killing medicines.

Neurofeedback (also known as EEG-biofeedback) is one sort of Biofeedback employed in many therapy settings as an alternative pain control method. It treats strokes, traumatic events, headaches, injuries, chronic muscle tension, diabetic neuropathic pain, and cancer recovery.

Research shows that it takes between 40 and 60 training sessions to reap the greatest effects. According to some research, this amount can result in up to 50% less pain, depending on the situation. Fortunately, research indicates that it is beneficial to both children and adults.

  • Helps improve heart health

According to research, biofeedback treatment can enhance control over heart rate variability and sympathetic nervous system arousal. This neuro-cardio combo is responsible for many physical consequences of a person’s stress response. Biofeedback training is also helpful in treating cardiovascular disease symptoms like anxiety, insomnia, and depression.

Biofeedback-assisted stress management (BFSM) is a type of Biofeedback that treats cardiovascular disorders. Its purpose is to minimize the overactivity of the autonomic nervous system. (Excessive activity can be harmful to the heart.)

This therapeutic paradigm may help persons with heart disease minimize psychological stress, improve their quality of life, and improve their clinical condition. According to a 2020 study, using BFSM by heart failure patients may cause cellular and molecular remodeling of the failing heart, change abnormal heart rate variability, and positively impact side effects associated with severe chronic disease.

  • Reduces hyperarousal and difficulty sleeping

Electroencephalography (EEG) feedback manages hyperarousal symptoms such as sleeplessness and ADHD. (Hyperarousal is a group of symptoms that frequently affect patients who have PTSD.)

The Department of Psychophysiology discovered in 2020 that two neurofeedback treatments (sensorimotor protocol and a sequential, quantitative EEG model) were effective in relieving insomnia symptoms.

Both groups exhibited significant reductions in dysfunctional symptoms such as daytime sleepiness and nighttime hyperarousal after 20 15-minute biofeedback sessions.

Participants in the study also reported significant improvement scores on multiple insomnia measuring scales (Insomnia Severity Index, Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Inventory, PSQI Sleep Efficiency Test, and Quality of Life Inventory).

Side effects and risks of therapy

  • Many people believe that Biofeedback is safer than traditional methods of treating diseases with medications because it does not entail the use of drugs. There are, however, some possible issues. And the benefits can vary greatly depending on the specific patient.

  • Some side effects of Biofeedback are anxiety, brain fog, poor focus, concern with getting results, restlessness, weariness, and difficulty sleeping. Some people experience these effects due to changes in brain waves, revealing difficult feelings, and becoming accustomed to electrical changes.

  • Biofeedback may not be effective for every patient. The condition severity, willingness to practice at home, specific brain waves being uptrained or down trained, the experience of the professional, genetics, whether a person has multiple disorders, and unknown preexisting neurological conditions are all factors that influence how well a patient responds to biofeedback sessions.

How to locate a reputable biofeedback therapist?

When looking for a therapist, keep the following suggestions in mind:

Many state licensing boards include biofeedback training in the curriculum for professionals such as psychologists, physical therapists, nurses, physicians, and social workers. However, not everyone who holds one of these licenses has considerable training or expertise in giving Biofeedback, so it’s always ideal to seek a referral and other qualifications, certificates, licenses, and so on.

Before beginning training, consult a therapist to ensure that the biofeedback type best treats your problem. The more a therapist understands your medical history and symptoms, the more likely they will use the most appropriate form of Biofeedback and combine sessions with other proven therapies to benefit you.

To conclude –

Biofeedback therapy is a mind-body method that teaches patients how to adjust their bodily sensations, reactions to ideas, stress responses, and certain electrical brain activity.

Biofeedback treatment improves your ability to respond effectively to stress and mental activity by changing your awareness/consciousness of how your mind interacts with your body.

Anxiety, sadness, sleeplessness, heart disease, pain, and ADHD are all diseases that biofeedback treatment can help cure and can even be used as a natural constipation cure.

Many healthcare providers, including psychologists, general physicians, and psychiatrists, offer biofeedback therapy. So, it’s a great idea to find a well-qualified biofeedback practitioner to get relief from certain conditions.

Understanding Biofeedback Therapy in Detail