Biofeedback - Your Guide to Mental Health Resources

Leonard Holmes, Ph. D 

The term biofeedback refers to a technique where a person receives extra feedback about the state that their body is in. This feedback can take the form of a tone that varies in pitch, lights that turn on and off, or a line on a computer screen. A common form of biofeedback, EMG biofeedback, provides the person with feedback on how tense their muscles are. If computerized biofeedback equipment is used the user sees a line on computer screen that represents their muscle tension. Their job is to do whatever works to make the line get lower. By making the line get lower they are learning how to relax their muscles. This form of biofeedback is frequently used for people with headaches. Another form of biofeedback used for some people who have migraine headaches is temperature biofeedback. In this form of biofeedback a person is learning to warm their hands. 

Warming the hands diverts blood into the hands. When there's more blood in the hands there is less blood in the head. Migraine headaches are very complex, but one component of migraine appears to be constriction and the dilation of blood vessels in the head. As a person learns to redirect blood to the hands they are less likely to have a migraine headache. 

Biofeedback is not an active form of treatment. Nothing is being done to you when you are hooked-up to biofeedback equipment. You are simply being given some extra feedback about state that your body is is in. It's then your job to use this feedback to make some changes in your body. The brain is very complex. There are connections in the brain between many different areas, and many of these connections are not usually taken advantage of. Parts of the brain control automatic functions in the body such as heart rate, breathing, body fluid regulation and regulation of temperature and blood flow. Through biofeedback a person is learning to gain control of these automatic functions. They are learning to use connections in the brain that exist, but that are not often used. 

Biofeedback is sometimes used as an adjunct treatment for people with anxiety. Biofeedback-assisted relaxation trading can help people with anxiety learn to relax. By seeing some aspects of their body on computer screen or hearing a tone that increases and decreases in pitch they are able to relax their autonomic nervous system and calm down their body. 

Biofeedback is also used in some chronic pain programs. Muscle tension biofeedback assists people in relaxing muscles which may cause pain or contribute to pain. It is not such for all types of pain, and a physician or psychologist who has trained in biofeedback can help you decide whether biofeedback would be helpful for your pain. Research suggests that biofeedback is often helpful for migraine headaches, tension headaches, neck and shoulder pain, Raynaud's disease, attention deficit and hyperactivity, epilepsy, essential hypertension, incontinence, and anxiety disorders. Biofeedback is usually not particularly helpful for low back pain. Low back pain does not usually involve a large amount of constant muscle tension.... 

A psychophysiological stress profile is sometimes used to evaluate whether biofeedback would be helpful. A stress profile is a diagnostic technique to look at how your body responds to stress. You are hooked up to equipment which measures several different things. These may include muscle tension in one or more parts of your body, heart rate, blood pressure, finger temperature, blood volume in your fingers, and skin conductance (galvanic skin response). After being hooked up you are usually asked to relax. Then you are subjected to a source of stress. This may include such things as verbal math problems which you are expected to do quickly, or loud noises. You may be asked to describe a situation that you find stressful and to talk about it. At some point you are then asked to relax again. 

What emerges on this procedure is a picture of just how your body responds to stress. 

Some people respond with large changes in muscle tension, other people don't respond with changes in muscle tension, but have big changes in heart rate. The response on the stress profile is unique to each individual. From this procedure you can learn more about how your body responds to stress, and your doctor will learn more about what type of biofeedback might be helpful for you. 

Many insurance companies cover biofeedback treatments for particular disorders. Headaches are one of the diagnoses that are sometimes covered. Some insurance companies still view biofeedback as an "experimental" technique. When biofeedback first emerged in the 1960's as a treatment technique, many believed that we would soon be able to control almost every aspect of our physiology. This has not turned out to be true. While biofeedback can be helpful for many people, many aspects of our physiology remain under automatic control. Biofeedback may help you if you suffer from one of the conditions that it is helpful for. Don't expect miracles, and remember that you are the one making the changes. 

Make sure to try out our #1 selling biofeedback device, The Avazzia!

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