How Biofeedback Works

How biofeedback therapy can help you, and 4 different ways to start

Invented in the 1960s, biofeedback is based on the idea that you can learn to control automatic functions like your heart rate. Biofeedback therapy is painless, and involves hooking your body to a monitor so you can see its activity in real time. A biofeedback therapist helps you learn to control certain physical responses, potentially leading to improvements in your health.

What is biofeedback used for?

Biofeedback can be used to monitor your blood pressure, muscle tension, heart rate, brain activity, perspiration and skin temperature. Clinical trials are investigating the impact of biofeedback therapy for a range of conditions, including chronic back pain, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, hot flashes and asthma. It may be especially helpful for people with stress-related complaints such as headaches.

How biofeedback therapy works

Scientists don't know exactly how people are able to consciously control functions like heart rate and blood pressure that were once thought to be completely automatic. However, there is proof that some patients can learn to mentally influence these types of activities all the same.

You can participte in biofeedback therapy by seeing a registered therapist (the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America can provide a list of certified practitioners in your area). The therapist will place sensors on your body to measure activity in the areas that are affecting your health. You'll watch the monitor together, working to positively impact the readings.

Types of biofeedback machines

  • Electromyogram, or EMG: Measures muscle tension. Useful when trying to control conditions like stress headaches or neck pain. Once you know the triggers, you can work on relaxing specific muscle groups.
  • Galvanic skin sensors: These measure sweat gland activity. Useful in addressing emotional disorders.
  • Temperature biofeedback: Measures the temperature of your skin. Useful in treating circulatory problems and stress.
  • Electroencephalogram, or EEG: Monitors brain waves. Useful in addressing neurological disorders, including insomnia.

If you don't want to undergo biofeedback therapy sessions, you can also purchase biofeedback machines for use at home. You can use a portable machine, for example, to manage stress by keeping tabs on how your breathing affects your heart rate.

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