Biofeedback: Overview

Biofeedback helps people regulate some aspect of their body by using signals from the body.  It is a technique in which people are trained to improve their health by learning to control certain internal bodily processes that normally occur involuntarily, such as heart rate blood pressure, muscle tension, and skin temperature.

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Most people who benefit from biofeedback have conditions that are brought on or made worse by stress.  For this reason, many scientists believe that relaxation is key to successful biofeedback therapy.

With feedback from your bathroom scales you can learn you are losing weight; with feedback from his mirror, a man learns to shave properly.  This feedback or knowledge of results is essential to all learning.  Biofeedback applies this principle to learning to control your body, and leads to control of aspects that used to be thought of as 'just automatic' but actually can be altered, like blood pressure and heart rate.  But it only works if the patient wants to change.

Function; Why it is Recommended

In short, biofeedback instruments tell you what is going on, and you can use what they tell you to improve your control of that aspect of your body's working.

Measurements with electrodes are and displayed on a monitor that both the participant and the practitioner can see.  The monitor provides feedback to the participant about the internal workings of his or her body.  This person can then be taught to use this information to gain control over these "involuntary" activities.

The three most commonly used forms of biofeedback therapy are:

  • Electromyography (EMG – Electromyographic feedback), which measures muscle tension
  • Thermal biofeedback, which measures skin temperature
  • Neurofeedback or electroencephalography (EEG), which measures brain wave activity.

Guided by a biofeedback therapist, a person can learn to lower blood pressure through relaxation techniques and mental exercises.  When successful, the feedback signals reflect this accomplishment.  This acts as affirmation and encouragement for continued efforts.

Biofeedback is an effective therapy for many conditions, but it is primarily used to treat high blood pressure, tension headache, migraine headache, chronic pain, and urinary incontinence.

Biofeedback shows considerable promise for the treatment of urinary incontinence, which affects millions of Americans.  One early study found that biofeedback improves bladder function and reduces symptoms of urinary incontinence by up to 94%.  Biofeedback can help you re-educate and strengthen your pelvic floor muscles, particularly if your muscles are weak and you don't know how to produce a contraction.  Biofeedback also appears to be helpful for people with fecal incontinence.

Other research suggests that thermal biofeedback may soothe the symptoms of Raynaud's disease.

EMG biofeedback has been shown to reduce pain, morning stiffness, and the number of tender points in people with fibromyalgia.

A review of scientific studies found that biofeedback may help people with insomnia fall asleep.

One preliminary study found that the combination of temperature biofeedback and EEG neurofeedback helped alcoholics feel less depressed and more likely to abstain from drinking alcohol.

EEG neurofeedback (especially when combined with cognitive therapy) has been shown to improve behavior and intelligence scores in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).  There is a growing interest in training EEG patterns in children to help them with Attention Deficit Disorder and in working with adults with substance abuse problems in a similar way.

Biofeedback combined with fiber may also help relieve abdominal pain in children.

Thermal biofeedback helps well alleviate migraine and chronic tension headachesMigraine headaches respond very well to biofeedback training in relaxation, either by training in finger-warming, or just using the skin conductance feedback.

Some people develop a pattern of responding in their muscles to stressful situations.  If this is sustained it can become painful, and then it is useful to apply EMG feedback to learning to relax the tense muscles.  'Stiff Neck' pain and writer's cramp can be relieved in this way.

Biofeedback may also be useful for the following health problems:


Each session generally lasts less than one hour.  The number of sessions required depends on the condition being treated.  Many people begin to see results within 8 to 10 sessions.  Conditions such as high blood pressure, however, usually require 20 weekly biofeedback sessions before improvement can be seen.  In addition to these sessions, the patient will also be taught mental exercises and relaxation techniques that can be done at home and must be practiced at least 5 to 10 minutes every day.


Biofeedback is considered a safe procedure.  No negative side-effects have been reported.  Many people prefer biofeedback over medicine because of the lack of side-effects.

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Biofeedback can help with the following:

Dental / Oral

Bruxism (Clenching/Grinding Teeth)

Studies support the conclusion that heavy bruxers have reduced frequency of clenching early on with biofeedback treatments.

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