Biofeedback is a treatment technique that involves training patients to improve their health by using signals from their own body.
Psychologists may use biofeedback to help an anxious patient learn to relax, or physical therapists may use biofeedback to help a person who has had a stroke to regain movement in paralyzed muscles. Specialists in various fields use biofeedback to help their patients cope with pain. Let’s take a closer look at this treatment technique.
Our thoughts, memories, and emotions are connected to an automatic stress response known as the “fight or flight response.” Researchers have identified various physiological changes that occur during this response that are thought to be triggered by the sympathetic nervous system through the release of stress hormones, such as adrenaline, into the blood stream. This release creates immediate physical reactions as we prepare to fight or flee the perceived threat. For instance, imagine you’re crossing the street. Unexpectedly, a speeding car swerves in your direction. Your heart rate increases, your respiration grows shallow, and you experience a sudden surge of adrenaline that allows you to move out of the street quickly. This is your fight or flight response.
Sometimes, our bodies produce this response when there is no threat of physical danger. Consequently, we might feel relaxed, but physiologically, we may be far from it. This is where biofeedback can be helpful.
Biofeedback is a safe, non-invasive procedure that enables you to learn how to change physiological activity to improve health or performance. Sensors are applied to the surface of the skin to monitor bodily processes, such as pulse, heart rate, respiration, muscle tension, temperature, blood pressure, etc. Then, the feedback appears on a computer screen. Biofeedback involves learning how to use this feedback to achieve and maintain a state of relaxation and improved health.
Generally, biofeedback is not covered by health insurance. However, it tends to be low-risk and moderately priced. While some people have experienced relief from anxiety, insomnia, pain, and stiffness, further studies are needed to confirm the effectiveness of biofeedback. To learn more, visit the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback at www.aapb.org. And as always, be sure to talk with your healthcare professional.