Biofeedback is increasing in popularity for the treatment of chronic pain. It can help you to self-regulate and influence your pain perception.
In essence, biofeedback enables you to make subtle changes, such as relaxing specific muscles, to reduce pain. By harnessing the power of your mind and becoming aware of what’s going on in your body, you can gain more control over your health.
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What is biofeedback?
“Bio” means body, and “feedback” means having information fed back to you. Thus, biofeedback is the use of instrumentation to mirror involuntary psychophysiological processes that you may be unaware of but may be able to control voluntarily.
Biofeedback is a non-invasive method to measure physiological functions. The precise instruments can measure the slightest changes in various body functions, which are then shown in the form of feedback. You get an insight into what is happening inside your body and thus learn to change the behavioral patterns to improve health. Any changes are rewarded, which leads to the learning of new behavioral patterns.
Biofeedback is frequently used for the management of chronic symptoms and as part of physical therapy for patients with motor dysfunction. It is also commonly used to treat tension headache, migraine headache, chronic pain, and urinary incontinence.
Biofeedback training may be able to reduce, or even eliminate, the need for medication management of disease states. It also may help you take an active role in your healing, which is consistent with the self-management model of chronic pain.
Benefits of biofeedback therapy include:
- It’s non-invasive
- It might enhance the benefits of medications
- It might reduce or eliminate the need for medications
- It might help women who can’t take medication during pregnancy
Another positive side effect of biofeedback is that you can use self-regulation skills to help manage other life stressors. You can use these skills anywhere at any time, independent of medications or physicians.
How does biofeedback therapy work?
During biofeedback sessions, you’re connected to electrical sensors that help transmit information about your body. Electrodes or sensors are placed on different parts of your body to measure your involuntary bodily processes, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. A monitor is used to display how your bodily processes change in response to your stress levels.
This biofeedback enables you to become an active participant in the process of health maintenance. Over time, these changes in bodily processes can be sustained without continued use of the biofeedback instruments.
Types of biofeedback
Several biofeedback techniques might be used to gather information about bodily processes. Your therapist will determine the most suitable method for you, depending on your underlying health conditions and goals.
Electromyography (EMG) is the most commonly used biofeedback equipment. It monitors body relaxation, muscle tension, and muscle dysfunction. EMG biofeedback is constructive in the treatment of many musculoskeletal conditions and post-cardiovascular accident (CVA) rehabilitation.
Electrodermograph sensors are attached to the palmar surface of your fingers. They measure the activity of your sweat glands and the amount of perspiration on your skin, indicating the presence of anxiety. The use of electrodermograph is associated with reduced pain perception and decreased chronic systemic inflammation, with stability over time (1).
Thermistors can be used for migraines and Raynaud’s disease. The sensors will be attached to your fingers or feet to measure blood flow to your skin.
During respiratory biofeedback, bands are placed around your chest and abdomen to monitor your breathing patterns and respiration rate.
Real-time ultrasound imaging
Biofeedback programs and devices
A growing number of biofeedback programs and devices are being marketed for at-home use. The most common types are wearable devices as well as the combination of virtual reality and exergaming technology.
Wrist sensors can be used to monitor your breathing and track your breathing patterns using a downloadable app. The app can alert you if you have prolonged tension, and it offers guided breathing activities to help restore calmness.
Biofeedback headband can monitor your brain activity as you meditate. It involves uses a sound alarm to alert when your mind is calm and when it’s active to help you learn to regulate your stress response.
Virtual reality (VR) and exergaming technology
VR and exergaming technology can also be used as biofeedback signals. Aside from post-stroke rehabilitation, VR and exergaming technology may also be effective in improving exercise techniques in musculoskeletal populations.
Biofeedback therapy for pain management
Biofeedback therapy can be used for pain intervention and posture correction.
Postural training with real-time biofeedback therapy can help improve sitting posture and decrease low back discomfort (2). It also reduces muscular activity in adults with non-specific neck pain due to computer work.
Low back pain
Personalized feedback messages about activity patterns have the potential to mitigate chronic low back pain (2). A wearable textile monitoring sensor system is shown to have a high accuracy in measuring changes in spinal curvature and can control lumbar spine motion comfortably (3).
Neural sensory feedback is shown to increase walking speed and confidence in patients with phantom limb pain while decreasing mental and physical fatigue (4).
Biofeedback therapy can relax muscles and ease stress to reduce both the severity and frequency of headaches. It seems to be particularly beneficial for headaches when it’s combined with conventional medications.
Biofeedback might help you control symptoms or reduce the amount of medication you take. Eventually, you can practice the biofeedback techniques on your own.
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