Table of Contents
- What is Biofeedback?
- Are there different types of Biofeedback?
- How does Biofeedback work?
- What happens during a Biofeedback session?
- What is Biofeedback good for?
- Biofeedback may also be useful for the following health problems:
- How many sessions will I need?
- Are there any risks associated with Biofeedback?
- What Biofeedback is and is not
- Temperature Biofeedback
- How temperature Biofeedback helps:
- How temperature Biofeedback works:
- Methods of producing relaxation
- Feedback Electromyography (EMG)
- Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback (HRV)
- How does HRV Biofeedback Work?
- What Conditions is HRV Biofeedback Used to Treat?
- Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Biofeedback training.
- What is Heart Rate Variability?
- What is the relationship between Heart Rate Variability and Biofeedback?
- Respiratory Biofeedback
- Respiratory Biofeedback is associated with a number of health benefits:
- Feedback Encephalography(EEG)
- Use your mind
What is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback is a technique that trains people to improve their health by controlling certain bodily processes that normally happen involuntarily, such as heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and skin temperature. Electrodes attached to your skin measure these processes and display them on a monitor. With help from a Biofeedback therapist, you can learn to change your heart rate or blood pressure, for example. At first you use the monitor to see your progress, but eventually you will be able to achieve success without the monitor or electrodes. 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.
Are there different types of Biofeedback?
The four most commonly used forms of Biofeedback therapy are:
- Electromyography (EMG), which measures muscle tension
- Thermal Biofeedback, which measures skin temperature
- Neurofeedback or Electroencephalography (EEG), which measures brain wave activity
- HRV – Heart Rate Variability
How does Biofeedback work?
Researchers aren’t sure exactly how or why Biofeedback works. However, there does seem to be at least one common thread: 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 the key to successful Biofeedback therapy. When your body is under chronic stress, internal processes like blood pressure become overactive. Guided by a Biofeedback therapist, you can learn to lower your blood pressure through relaxation techniques and mental exercises. When you are successful, you see the results on the monitor, which encourages your efforts.
What happens during a Biofeedback session?
In a normal Biofeedback session, electrodes are attached to your skin. They send information to a small monitoring box that translates the measurements into a tone that varies in pitch, a visual meter that varies in brightness, or a computer screen that shows lines moving across a grid. The Biofeedback therapist then leads you in mental exercises. Through trial and error, you can soon learn to identify the mental activities that will bring about the physical changes you want.
What is Biofeedback good for?
Biofeedback seems to be effective for a range of health problems. For example, it shows promise for treating depression, asthma, PTSD, anxiety, and TMJ.
Research also suggests that thermal Biofeedback may ease symptoms of Raynaud’s disease (a condition that causes reduced blood flow to fingers, toes, nose or ears) while EMG Biofeedback has been shown to reduce pain, morning stiffness, and the number of tender points in people with fibromyalgia. A review of scientific clinical studies found that Biofeedback may help people with insomnia fall asleep.
Biofeedback can also be used effectively in children. For example, EEG Neurofeedback (especially when combined with cognitive therapy) has been reported to improve behavior and intelligence scores in children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Biofeedback, combined with fiber in the diet, may help relieve abdominal pain in children. Thermal Biofeedback helps relieve migraine and chronic tension headaches among children and teens as well.
Biofeedback may also be useful for the following health problems:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Back pain
- Bed wetting
- Chronic pain
- Epilepsy and related seizure disorders
- Head injuries
- High blood pressure
- Learning disabilities
- Motion sickness
- Muscle spasms
- Sexual disorders, including pain with intercourse
- Spinal cord injuries
How many sessions will I need?
Each session generally lasts less than 1 hour. The number of sessions required depends on the condition being treated. Many people start to see results within 8 – 10 sessions. Treatment of headache, incontinence, and Raynaud’s disease requires at least 10 weekly sessions and some follow-up sessions as health improves. Conditions like high blood pressure, however, usually require 20 weekly Biofeedback sessions before you see improvement. You will also be taught mental exercises and relaxation techniques that you can do at home for at least 5 – 10 minutes every day.
Are there any risks associated with Biofeedback?
Biofeedback is considered safe. No negative side effects have been reported.
What Biofeedback is and is not
At this point it may be useful to specify exactly what Biofeedback is and is not. The first incorrect idea about Biofeedback is that Biofeedback instruments actually change or influence bodily processes. This belief is incorrect. Biofeedback equipment merely monitors or measures bodily functions. The instrument “feeds back” information to you, so you become aware of small changes in your body, and the factors that bring about these changes. Through this, awareness develops, that makes it possible to control many of your physiological functions.
Biofeedback is the process of becoming aware of various physiological functions using instruments that provide information on the activity of those same systems, with a goal of being able to manipulate them at will. Processes that can be controlled include brainwaves, muscle tone, skin conductance, heart rate and pain perception.
Biofeedback may be used to improve health or performance, and the physiological changes often occur in conjunction with changes to thoughts, emotions, and behavior. Eventually, these changes can be maintained without the use of extra equipment.
Biofeedback training, and hand-warming in particular, have been shown to have a beneficial effect for those who suffer from migraine headaches, high blood pressure, insomnia, pain, stress, digestive disorders, and many, many other ailments.
Biofeedback training does not require the use of drugs or surgery to alter the body, but teaches your body to alter itself. Once a Biofeedback skill has been acquired, the patient usually then has no need for further use of training equipment, and may use feedback only to occasionally tune or validate the utilization of their skill.
The basic theory behind hand-warming stems from our understanding of the fight-flight response. The fight-flight response is an automatic change of physiological markers that take place when a person suddenly perceives danger or stress. Blood flow is significantly decreased in the extremities while being increased to the vital organs of the body. This enables a person to react physically to danger. This physiological change was very favorable and served as an automatic protection device, in primitive society. Although the fight-flight response has been beneficial and necessary for survival, it can also be harmful. If we overuse this natural response by constantly interpreting things as being stressful or dangerous, that really are not, we are chronically sending this response to the body. The main goal of hand-warming is to assist in measuring our level of stress through skin temperature, and thereby allow us to change our stress level to meet the circumstances. The more stressed a person is, the lower the temperature in the hands, feet, and other extremities. The lower the stress level, the higher the temperature should be in the extremities.
Temperature Biofeedback or blood flow is a basic tool for general relaxation training. It monitors skin temperature and aids relief in certain circulatory disorders such as Raynaud’s disease.
A sensor shows when blood flow increases by registering an increase in finger temperature. Blood flow in the hands is sensitive to stress and relaxation, so it is necessary that you learn to watch the rise and fall of your temperature. Soon, you will become so aware of your internal feelings linked with relaxation that you will begin to produce this state voluntarily.
How temperature Biofeedback helps:
For relief from migraine and cluster headache, and certain types of chronic pain, temperature Biofeedback works best. Temperature feedback is very good in assisting you gain control over a migraine by simply warming your hands. For best results, a sensor is attached to your foot or to the middle or small finger of your dominant hand. If you are tense or anxious, your skin temperature will automatically fall as blood is redirected inwards to the muscles and internal organs.
Measuring skin temperature, therefore, is similar to monitoring muscle tension, in terms of managing stress. If you know this, it can help you reduce the frequency of your migraine headaches, and help you relax. With temperature Biofeedback device in place, you can get ample relief from your ailments and lead a healthy life.
How temperature Biofeedback works:
If you are stressed or in pain, your body reacts with a “fight or flight” response that involves greater muscle tension, heart rate, respiration, hormonal changes, blood flow to the head, and lesser blood flow to the extremities. When your body is ready to fight or run away, it responds by increasing blood flow to the brain, heart and large muscles which help you move. However, blood flow is reduced to the hands and feet to stop you losing blood in an injury. When the blood flow to the head increases, it results in the head feeling warm, and when it reduces in the extremities, it results in these areas feeling cool. Temperature Biofeedback, therefore, can be useful for demonstrating deep relaxation. Conversely, when the subject stops the relaxation process, the hand temperature begins to decrease and become cooler.
The temperature of your hands and fingers, when measured, should range between 93.2°F and 96.8°F, and indicates that your body is very relaxed. If it reads a lower value of about 86°F – 91.4°F, it shows that you are under slight stress which could increase with any drop in temperature. However, if your temperature falls below 78.8°F, it could point to problems of blood circulation in the fingers or Raynaud’s Syndrome, which can be organic or psychological in origin. It is necessary to remember that temperature measuring is sensitive to room temperature, and a standard room temperature is usually 77°F.
Methods of producing relaxation
You now have a basic understanding of hand temperature and what it indicates about your present level of stress. How do we regulate our hand temperature and reduce stress?
There are many different ways to increase your hand temperature. We suggest that you try them all, and find the method that works best for you. The basic idea behind each of these methods is to focus your consciousness on the experience of being profoundly relaxed.
DEEP BREATHING— This is one of the most common ways used to relax. It has an ancient therapeutic history. It is accomplished by taking deep diaphragmatic breathes and then exhaling for a longer count than the inhalation.
MUSCLE TENSING— This is accomplished through sessions of tensing muscles and then completely relaxing them. It is believed that the relief you experience after tensing your muscle is an analogue of the conscious relaxation process you are trying to learn.
IMAGERY— The relaxation response is activated in this method by having the person think about a very peaceful, warm and calm place, such as lying on your beautiful imaginary beach. It is helpful if the person actually imagines the warmth along with imagining themselves there.
MUSIC— We are just beginning to understand the impact of music. Some people find it quite easy to increase their hand temperature by just sitting in a comfortable chair and listening to appropriate soft music.
AUTOGENIC PHRASES— In this method, positive, present tense statements are said to one’s self. Examples would be: I feel quite relaxed. My hands are beginning to feel warm. My muscles are all loose and comfortable. I can feel the blood running into my hands. My hands feel heavy and warm. This is a very popular method and seems to work for most people.
OPEN FOCUS— On open focus training you try to imagine an interior portion of space in your body. Examples might be: Can you imagine the space between your eyes? Can you imagine that your hands and fingers are filled with space? Each statement is made and then you pause briefly concentrating for about 10 seconds on the specific area.
Once you have discovered a method that works for you, take time once a day to practice your relaxation routine. For maximum benefit, you should be able to reach and maintain a temperature of 95.5 degrees F for five minutes each training session. This simple procedure pays great dividend for your effort.
Feedback Electromyography (EMG)
Feedback EMG is the process of monitoring and displaying to the trainee the ongoing contraction and relaxation patterns generated by their skeletal muscles. Its objective is to heighten proprioceptive awareness of the mechanisms of muscle posture and to develop voluntary control over dysfunctional, semi-voluntary or involuntary muscle activity. The achievement of muscoskeletal control skills has direct clinical applications in both physical medicine (neuromuscular reeducation) and in the redress of psychological, psychosomatic, and stress-related disorders.
It has long been recognized that chronic muscle tension, a state in which an individual is continually stiff, or braced, can be an indication of an ongoing stress response. Myographic feedback can play a major role in improving an individual’s awareness of both the objective physiological indications of inappropriate stress response and the mechanisms involved in their generation and maintenance.
By learning to voluntarily control affected muscles, individuals can achieve significant clinical improvement. This improvement results from a variety of factors: First, when acute or chronic muscle tension directly contributes to an individual’s distress, relaxation of the affected muscles can relieve the discomfort. Second, the feedback of observable and objective indications of the trainee’s condition can facilitate the trainee’s acceptance and understanding of the problem. Third, the achievement of deep muscle relaxation can contribute to the trainee’s overall relaxation and have significant clinical impact on stress-related disorders. Fourth, direct control of previously involuntary muscle activity serves to improve the trainee’s sense of self-control, self-responsibility, and self-image.
As a result, an individual may become more understanding of and less defensive towards other therapeutic procedures and recommendations. Another major application of feedback electromyography is in the neuromuscular retraining of partially to seriously dysfunctional muscles. As a muscle rehabilitation tool, feedback myography can easily be integrated into current physical therapy procedures, and can make a substantial contribution toward patient recovery
Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback (HRV)
Heart rate variability (HRV) is the beat-to-beat variations in heart rate or pulse, which occur naturally during all levels of activity, from running and jumping to sitting still or sleeping. HRV is intimately tied to a person’s emotional state, and with Biofeedback you can use HRV as a treatment option for a variety of mental and emotional conditions, including anxiety and depression.
HRV patterns are different from simple heart rate patterns, and much more significant for psychological treatment. When we are in a state of stress, anxiety, anger or sadness our heart rate variation tends to be lower, disordered and chaotic. In contrast, when we are in a positive emotional state, like love, laughter or gratitude, our heart rate variation tends to be increased, ordered and rhythmic.
Using a computerized analysis of heart rate and respiratory rate information, it is possible to measure the rate of variability and use the information to create a change in emotional state.
How does HRV Biofeedback Work?
HRV Biofeedback uses the computerized data collected and displays it on a screen so you are able to watch and monitor your heart patterns as you change your thoughts, breathing, body tension and other activities. Through practice, you develop specific techniques to adjust and modify your heart rhythms to an ideal state. After a series of sessions and use of the techniques you learn, you ultimately are able to self-regulate the ideal rhythms you desire.
What Conditions is HRV Biofeedback Used to Treat?
HRV Biofeedback training is a useful treatment option for a number of psychological and mental conditions, including:
- Anxiety and Panic
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Biofeedback training.
The body’s autonomic nervous system (ANS) governs many of the body’s internal functions, through its two branches: the sympathetic branch of this ANS activates or increases the heart’s action, while the parasympathetic branch acts as a brake slowing the action of the heart. The vagus nerve plays a role in the parasympathetic braking action. The balance between this throttle and brake system produces an ongoing oscillation, an orderly increase and decrease in heart rate. These autonomic inputs are mediated by two “pacemakers” in the heart, the sinoatrial (SA) and atrioventricular (AV) nodes, which are responsible for heart rhythms. The SA node initiates an electrical signal which begins each cycle of the heart’s pumping action. This signal passes through the AV node which spreads the electrical current through the ventricles of the heart. A variety of factors, including breathing, pressure sensors (baroreceptors) in the arteries, the body’s thermal regulation, and anxious thinking, increase specific rhythms in heart activity. The overall process of heart function is the end product of these components rhythms. Higher heart rate variability seems to indicate an optimal cooperation between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
What is Heart Rate Variability?
By variability we mean changes in the interval or distance between one beat of the heart and the next. The interbeat interval (IBI) is the time between one R-wave (or heart beat) and the next, in milliseconds. The IBI is highly variable within any given time period. Multiple biological rhythms overlay one another to produce the resultant pattern of variability. Interbeat interval variations, or heart rate variability, have relevance for physical, emotional, and mental function. Many people confuse Heart Rate with Heart Rate Variability. The human heart is a bio-electrical pump beating at an ever changing rate: it is not like a clock that beats at a steady, unchanging rate. This variability in heart rate is an adaptive quality in a healthy body.
Scientific study of the variability in heart rate is fairly recent, and only in the past ten years did it become possible to train human beings to change the variability in heart rhythms.
What is the relationship between Heart Rate Variability and Biofeedback?
Heart Rate Variability Biofeedback, or HRV Biofeedback, is a new technique for training human beings to change the variability and dominant rhythms in their heart activity. The use of HRV Biofeedback began in Russia, where it was applied to the treatment of asthma and many other conditions. Research is now going on in the United States, applying HRV Biofeedback to a variety of medical and psychiatric conditions, including: anger, anxiety disorders, asthma, cardiovascular conditions, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, and chronic pain. Biofeedback training can teach patients to increase the percentage of total HRV in specific frequency ranges.
The breathing patterns of patients who are anxious or stressed are often shallow and rapid. Upper chest and neck muscles tend to be used for breathing, instead of the abdominal muscles. With Respiratory Biofeedback, belts with sensors are placed around the chest and the abdomen of the patient, whose breathing pattern is visualized on a computer screen. The therapist teaches patients how to relax, breathe using the abdominal muscles, and to breathe slowly and deeply to alleviate the anxiety.
Respiratory Biofeedback is associated with a number of health benefits:
- It can increase oxygen to the brain, potentially improving a variety of neurological imbalances. This is accomplished through more efficient breathing that brings more air into the lungs.
- It can increase the brain’s production of alpha waves. These brain waves can help reduce harmful stress hormones, especially cortisol, balance the autonomic nervous system and promote muscle relaxation – all very important features for a healthier brain and body.
- Respiratory Biofeedback can help restore and improve normal breathing. Improper breathing is often associated with brain and spinal cord injuries and is sometimes a hidden problem even in relatively healthy people.
- It can help improve the function of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles. In addition to breathing, these muscles play a significant role in physical activity, improving posture and supporting the spine and pelvis.
- Because of its effect on the brain and nervous system, Respiratory Biofeedback can help improve the function of other muscles in the body as well and help reduce pain.
Feedback encephalography is the process of monitoring and displaying to an individual the ongoing EEG activity generated in by their brain. Its most common clinical application is to redress a chronic mental posture constituting a component of a psychosomatic or psychological disorder. Many individuals suffering from stress-related disorders exhibit excessive mental arousal and rumination associated with high-frequency (beta) EEG activity. Characteristically, these individuals do not experience periodic mental relaxation associated with synchronized alpha EEG activity. By learning to enhance the generation of EEG alpha activity, such individuals may cultivate a more normal mental posture and thus modify a portion of maladaptive psychological mechanisms, which tend to perpetuate or exacerbate their condition.
The electroencephalographic potentials emitted by the human brain provide one of the few objective measurements of activity of the human central nervous system. While the sources and mechanics are not fully understood, EEG potentials originate in the firing mechanisms of neurons and travel along the surface of the cerebral cortex as well as through deeper layers of the brain. There are four basic types of EEG patterns, classified according to their frequency (number of Hertz or cycles-per-second). They are beta, 12-20Hz, alpha, 8-12Hz, theta, 4-8Hz, and delta, 0-4Hz. In adults, each of these frequency bands represents a specific mental arousal level, and is associated with a set of generalized behavioral correlates. It should be emphasized, however, that individuals might differ somewhat in terms of their subjunctive experiences of these EEG states.
In feedback electroencephalography, EEG activity is detected by surface electrode sensors attached to the scalp – then amplified, analyzed, and translated into visual and auditory feedback displays. By receiving immediate and continuous information reflecting EEG frequency and amplitude fluctuations, the trainee can learn to recognize and associate specific patterns of EEG activity with discernible mental and physiological states. With time, this can generate desired EEG activity and its mental and physiological connection.
Brain wave activity provides us with information on brain function. Understanding some basic information about brain waves is an important component of respiratory Biofeedback. The brain produces different frequencies and amplitudes of electrical waves depending upon levels of consciousness. Sensation, attention (self-awareness), intellectual activity and the planning of physical movement have distinct electrical correlates in the brain that can be measured. Measuring brain waves during various activities, such as reading, performing a math problem, listening to music, with eyes open and closed, provides further information about brain function. Once analyzed through brain mapping such as the quantitative EEG (QEEG), areas of the brain can be trained to function better through Biofeedback, often referred to as Neurofeedback.
Four commonly measured brain waves, and at least two others that have been observed:
- Beta waves (12 – 32 Hz) are associated with full awareness and high cortical activity. A busy brain, such as during a business meeting, planning a trip or mentally doing several things at one time.
- Alpha waves (8 – 12 Hz) are associated with a sense of relaxed alertness and high creativity. Typical during meditation, listening to music, and when eyes are closed. The ability to generate alpha waves is associated with the self-regulation of stress and may contribute to an expanded state of consciousness.
- Theta waves(4 – 8 Hz) are an awake but dreamy state common just before the onset of sleep. Most prevalent in youth but occurs during deep creativity and meditation in adults at any time.
- Delta waves(0.5 – 4 Hz) are very slow wave occurring during most stages of sleep. Abnormal if occurring while awake and may indicate a lack of nutrients such as glucose or oxygen, medication effects, or poorly functioning neurons.
The ability to produce alpha waves is associated with an overall healthy brain and body, especially in relation to controlling stress. It is one reason people have, for thousands of years, pursued meditation, the use of psychedelics and other drugs, prayer and other activities that seek to promote the alpha state. Specifically, alpha waves can reduce high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and help balance the autonomic nervous system.
These alpha waves can have dramatic effects on our whole body, such as improved memory, learning and comprehension, better blood sugar regulation, improved gut function, and balanced hormones. When we’re relaxed, creative, meditating and happy, our brain produces large amounts of alpha waves. For these and other reasons, one main focus of respiratory Biofeedback is the creation of alpha waves.
The inability to produce alpha waves is abnormal. Blood sugar problems, inadequate sleep, nutritional imbalance and very high levels of stress hormones can impair the ability to produce alpha waves. Even certain structural problems, such as those in the jaw joint or neck muscles innervated by the cranial nerves (neck flexors and SCM) can significantly reduce our ability to generate healthy alpha waves
Use your mind
We have a lot more control over our bodies than we think. Many autonomic body functions — such as pulse rate, temperature and blood pressure — can be controlled with a little concentration. This yogi-like feat is called “Biofeedback” in scientific circles and it’s been proven to work wonders.
A recent study found that patients could drop their blood pressure by as much as 10 points by simply thinking about it. Patients with high and normal blood pressure were taught basic relaxation techniques and Biofeedback. In a Biofeedback session, patients monitor their pulse, blood pressure and temperature as they practice deep breathing. Through this monitoring, they learn how to affect their autonomic functions.
Over the past few years, new research brought forth new approaches and strategies that can help us make improvements in self-development. Some of the main approaches include Biofeedback, which can provide you with some stress relief. Studies show that those suffering with insomnia. Whether it is medically or psychologically based, endure excessive levels of stress as well. By lowering your stress levels, you can find relief and achieve a recuperative night of rest.
Biofeedback helps by improving brain and physical performance. A monitoring device is used to display feedback. The monitor works by reading your body functions. It then examines the data to see how your body performs. Thus, by using this solution, you can connect with your bodily functions, and gain more control. Biofeedback is one way of finding stress relief. Most of us, however, cannot afford to go out and spend money on monitoring devices. Thus, we must look into other solutions, and one that comes to mind is a guide to manage daily pressure by using positive thriving solutions. What this means is that you learn how to use your stress in a way that helps you to thrive on positive thinking.