As biofeedback devices become more accessible to the health and wellness community, their popularity increases. Why? Because biofeedback is a non-invasive treatment option with little or no negative side effects; it’s even safe during pregnancy! Read on to learn more about this non-pharmaceutical therapy option, and decide for yourself whether or not it’s worth a shot.

What Is Biofeedback?

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Biofeedback is a type of brain-training technique used to teach you how to control certain bodily functions that would otherwise be considered involuntary. This includes learning how to control your breathing, heart rate, and muscle tension when exposed to certain stimuli.

During a biofeedback session, you’re attached to electrical sensors that gather information about your body’s state both at rest and when exposed to controlled stimuli. The information gathered is then displayed to you, allowing you to recognize your physiological responses so that you can learn to control and change these responses.

For example, during a biofeedback session aimed at treating anxiety, you would be hooked up to an electrocardiograph (ECG). Throughout your session, you would be exposed to anxiety-inducing stimuli. Your responses to these stimuli (in this case, an increased heart rate) will be displayed on a screen in front of you. Your goal during the session will be to calm yourself and decrease your heart rate. During the session, you’ll be guided to help pace your breathing and think positive statements about yourself and your ability to cope.

There are six different kinds of biofeedback, each measuring and tracking different body changes. These types of biofeedback include:

  • Brain Waves: Brain wave biofeedback uses sensors that attach to your scalp to monitor your brain waves using an electroencephalograph (EEG) machine.
  • Breathing: This is called respiratory biofeedback, during which bands are placed around your chest and abdomen to monitor your respiration rate and breathing patterns.
  • Heart Rate: This type of biofeedback sometimes uses a finger or earlobe sensor designed to detect blood volume changes, also known as a photoplethysmograph. In other cases, a chest, lower torso, or wrist sensor is used with an electrocardiograph (ECG) machine to monitor your heart rate.
  • Muscle Contraction: To measure muscle contractions, an electromyograph (EMG) is used, placing sensors over your skeletal muscles to monitor the electrical activity known to cause muscle contractions.
  • Sweat Gland Activity: This type of biofeedback uses sensors around your fingers, on your palm, or on your wrist, attached to an electrodermograph (EDG), to measure the amount of perspiration on your skin.
  • Temperature: Temperature biofeedback is monitored using sensors attached to your fingers or feet. These sensors measure the blood flow to your skin, tracking temperature changes during stress.

How Is Biofeedback Used?

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Biofeedback, sometimes also referred to as biofeedback training, can be used to help manage and improve the symptoms of many mental and physical health issues, including:

  • Asthma
  • Anxiety or stress
  • Chemotherapy side effects
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Constipation
  • Chronic pain
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
  • High blood pressure
  • Raynaud’s disease
  • Urinary incontinence
  • Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • Chronic headache
  • Stroke
  • Irritable bowel syndrome

During a biofeedback training session, a health professional (doctor, nurse, nurse practitioner, or therapist) attaches sensors to various parts of your body. These sensors will measure different things, such as brain waves, skin temperature, heart rate, muscle tension, and breathing. The information being monitored is then fed back to you via cues, such as a beeping sound, a flashing light, or visual cues on a screen.

The feedback teaches you to identify and change or control your body’s naturally involuntary reactions by changing your thoughts, feelings, or behaviors.

If biofeedback training is successful for you, it may help control or alleviate some or all of the symptoms of your condition. After you’ve learned enough biofeedback training, you can practice the techniques on your own. However, don’t discontinue medical treatment without consulting your health care provider.

Does Biofeedback Work?

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Biofeedback, like any other treatment option, doesn’t work for everyone. But many studies have found biofeedback training to be beneficial in a wide variety of cases. This study showed that participants could monitor and adjust their physiological response on their own when given neutral stimulation, whether or not the feedback given was real. However, participants could not adjust their response when presented with negative stimulation unless the biofeedback was real.

In another study, 63 different studies were examined. Of those, 65% of study participants showed a statistically significant positive result from exposure to biofeedback. That is to say, 65% of the people observed in the studies achieved positive results when receiving biofeedback.

Science hasn’t established any concrete opinion of biofeedback as of yet, but preliminary studies show promising results. Only time and further research will show for sure the full spectrum of positive and negative results attainable through biofeedback.