Therapy of the Biofeedback
Various forms of biofeedback therapy - performed using certain muscle relaxation, breath and mental exercises - are now being proven in numerous studies to treat more than a dozen health conditions. Biofeedback therapy helps reduce a wide range of symptoms by lowering sympathetic arousal. Through identifying and changing certain mental activities and physical reactions, biofeedback trains patients to help regulate their own unconscious bodily processes and better control their stress response. Biofeedback therapy acts as a natural painkiller and a natural headache remedy, among other things.
Some experts use the metaphor of “learning to putt a golf ball” to describe how biofeedback works. As someone practices putting and seeing where the ball goes, the feedback helps to improve their next stroke. In biofeedback, a patient follows measurements of their physiological responses - and as they move in a healthier direction, positive reinforcement and learning take place.
After reviewing more than 60 studies related to biofeedback, The Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London described biofeedback therapy as a “non-invasive, effective psycho-physiological intervention for psychiatric disorders,” concluding that over 80 percent of studies reported some level of clinical decrease in symptoms as a result of biofeedback exposure. According to their research, biofeedback interventions have been used successfully to treat common disorders including anxiety, autism, depression, eating disorders and schizophrenia.
But biofeedback therapies aren’t just useful for managing mental disorders - they’re also becoming more common in the treatment of injury recovery and chronic pain. Because therapists now offer several different biofeedback modalities, experts recommend patients try multiple bio-regulating approaches during their sessions. This has been shown to be most effective in significantly reducing symptoms.
Benefits of Biofeedback Therapy
1. Reduces Headaches
Because it can lower someone’s stress response, clinical studies shown that biofeedback is effective in reducing the frequency and severity of tension and migraine headaches. One study published by Harvard Medical School found that biofeedback training allowed many patients to decrease their dependence on pain medications and to experience less pain overall. (Although researchers also found similar benefits from teaching patients general relaxation techniques alone without additional using biofeedback.)
Patients in the Harvard study also learned pain theories regarding relaxation techniques. A portion also went through additional education about biofeedback training. All patients showed a statistically significant decrease in the frequency and severity of the headaches in the first 12 months; that benefit continued for 36 months. Both groups also reported lower medication use and less medical care costs.
2. Helps Treat Constipation
Biofeedback therapy is considered a well-established treatment modality for patients with several forms of chronic constipation (including dyssynergic defecation and fecal incontinence). Randomized controlled trials have found that 70 to 80 percent of all patients undergoing specialized biofeedback training in treatment centers experience improvements in symptoms.
Therapists now use biofeedback to help teach patients suffering from reoccurring constipation to better sense and control muscles in their digestive system that are related to bowel movements. For example, impaired rectal sensation and poor ability to squeeze muscles in the abdomen are both corrected using biofeedback maneuvers. Although barriers to biofeedback still exist within the general population (including lack of insurance coverage, distance to local treatment facilities and acute medical issues), researchers continue to work on improving ways to offer biofeedback therapy in an affordable manner to those with serious digestive complaints.
Another study found that both home-based and office-based biofeedback therapy were effective for the “number of complete spontaneous bowel movements per week as well as patient satisfaction with bowel function.” (5b) Research such as this shows the potential to broaden the availability of biofeedback therapy through home sessions without disrupting efficacy.
3. Reduces Anxiety
Biofeedback helps to make patients more aware of how their thoughts, feelings and behaviors all interact. This is why it’s frequently used in conjunction with other therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or mindfulness meditation training, to reduce someone’s stress response. As opposed to some forms of treatment, such as medications, biofeedback therapy is a process of training. Biofeedback therapists teach patients to pay more attention to the ways stress impacts the body. For example, anxiety causes someone’s heart rate to speed up, muscles to tense and the mind to worry. This, in turn, makes sleep and relaxation difficult. Through purposefully tracking symptoms and learning over and over again to reduce those using feedback as a guide, relaxation becomes better enforced.
4. Lowers Chronic & Short-Term Pain
Finding non-pharmacological techniques for controlling both short-term (acute) and chronic pain is now becoming more important than ever, given how much attention has been given to the potential for addiction of pain-killing drugs. One type of biofeedback, neurofeedback (also known as EEG-biofeedback), is being used in many treatment settings as an alternative method for pain reduction. It’s being used for things like management of strokes, post-traumatic events, headaches, injuries, chronic muscle tension, diabetic neuropathic pain and cancer recovery. Some evidence shows that it takes about 40 to 60 training sessions to achieve the most benefits. Some studies show this amount can result in up to 50 percent less pain depending on the condition. Thankfully, studies suggest it’s useful in both children and adults.
5. Can Aid in Improving Heart Health
Studies suggest that biofeedback therapy helps improve control over heart rate variability and arousal of the sympathetic nervous system. This neuro-cardio combo is responsible for many of the physical effects of someone’s stress response. Biofeedback training is also important in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases complications including anxiety, trouble sleeping and depression. One form of biofeedback known as biofeedback-assisted stress management (BFSM) is especially geared towards managing cardiovascular diseases. It aims to lower over-activation of the autonomic nervous system
Over-activation can negatively affect the heart. This therapy model could reduce psychological stress, improve quality of life and improve clinical status in people with heart disease. A 2011 study published in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine suggests that use of BFSM by heart failure patients may actually cause cellular and molecular remodeling of the failing heart, change abnormal heart rate variability and have a positive impact on side effects due to suffering from a serious chronic disease.
6. Reduces Hyperarousal & Trouble Sleeping
Electroencephalography (EEG) feedback is now commonly used to control symptoms of hyperarousal, including insomnia and ADHD symptoms. (Hyperarousal is a class of symptoms that often impact people living with PTSD.) Research conducted in 2011 by the Department of Psychophysiology at Helfgott Research Institute in Oregon found that two forms of neurofeedback treatments (sensor motor protocol and a sequential, quantitative EEG model) successfully demonstrated usefulness for treating insomnia symptoms.
After undergoing 20 15-minute biofeedback sessions, both groups experienced significant decreases in dysfunctional symptoms like daytime sleepiness and Hyperarrousal during the night. The study participants also reported significant improvements in scores on several insomnia measurement scales (Insomnia Severity Index, Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Inventory, PSQI Sleep Efficiency Test, and Quality of Life Inventory).