Biofeedback is a technique used in chronic pain treatment by which people learn to control some normally involuntary processes such as muscle tension, blood pressure, and the perception of pain. Scientists believe that the relaxation effects account for a large part of the positive outcomes from using biofeedback. There is a large amount of research literature identifying specific brain processes and physiological mechanisms that mediate the effects of biofeedback. The effectiveness of biofeedback in treating many conditions by modifying brain processes and muscle control is confirmed by this research. In general, those who benefit most from biofeedback have conditions that are brought on or are made worse by stress such as chronic pain or high blood pressure. Biofeedback also is useful in alleviating some conditions that are not stress-related, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), autism, and traumatic brain injury. Some common forms of biofeedback therapy include:
- Electromyography (EMG), which measures muscle tension.
- Thermal biofeedback, which measures skin temperature.
- Neurofeedback or electroencephalography (EEG), which measures brain waves.
- Galvanic skin response, where sensors measure changes in skin conductivity or resistance, which is affected by the activity of a person’s sweat glands and the amount of perspiration on the skin. This procedure can indicate the amount of anxiety a person is experiencing.
- Peripheral skin temperature, where a person’s skin temperature is measured to assess stress level.
In a biofeedback session, electrodes from a measuring device such as the EEG or the EMG are connected to the skin of a patient. Information collected from the person is processed by the individual machine and expressed in sound or by light waves across a computer grid. A therapist then leads the person in mental exercises designed to help him or her control a particular function of his or her body, which ultimately alters the sound or light waves coming from the machine. For example, when your muscle tension is measured by an EMG, the machine may produce a sound like a high whistle. You can learn to relate the sound to the tension in your body. By learning and performing certain exercises, you can change your muscle tension, which will lower the tone of the whistle. This relaxation technique can help lessen neck and back pain, headaches, and teeth grinding. Biofeedback may decrease your need for medication by putting you in control of your own pain perception. The therapy seems to be very effective for some, but others have trouble mastering the necessary techniques or simply do not find relief from the procedure. This blog post is an excerpt from A Day Without Pain (Revised) by Mel Pohl, MD, FASAM; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).