Biofeedback: Questions and Answers

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Ancient Greek and Chinese healers were the early proponents of biofeedback. They believed the mind could control many bodily functions. Erroneously, some people have linked biofeedback to meditation and yoga. However, biofeedback is different: it doesn't rely on inner harmony or balance for health; it works to control physiological reactions.

Who performs biofeedback?
Biofeedback therapists are professionals who specialize in biofeedback. Many therapists are certified through the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (BCIA).

Typically, a bachelor's or master's degree in a health care field is required. That is followed by didactic biofeedback education, clinically supervised training, and physiology coursework. The BCIA's requirements are stringent and include a code of ethics.

What is biofeedback?
If you have ever taken your temperature, you have participated in a form of biofeedback. "Bio" is a combining word form meaning "life." "Feedback" denotes giving back. Simplified, biofeedback means feeding back information about life responses: temperature, heart rate, brain wave activity, and/or muscle tension.

Biofeedback requires intensive patient participation. The patient's goal is to learn to control involuntary functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, skin temperature, and muscle tension. The biofeedback therapist teaches the patient how to affect a particular function specific to a problem through mental or physical exercises (eg, tense neck muscles).

This treatment is not designed to take the place of a physician. The patient should continue to follow-up with their physician as prescribed.

What is the purpose of biofeedback?
Biofeedback has helped many people combat the ill effects from involuntary muscle tension and related pain.

Other forms of biofeedback include electromyography (EMG's) that measures muscle tension, electroencephalographs (EEGs) that measure brain-wave activity, and electrocardiographs (ECG's) known to measure heart rate.

How does the patient learn to apply the principles of biofeedback?
The biofeedback therapist begins by applying sensors to specific points on the patient's body. The sensors are then connected to special equipment (eg, computer) designed to monitor the patient's physiological responses.

The therapist teaches the patient mental and physical exercises designed to treat their disorder. For example, the patient may learn how to relax certain groups of muscles in the low back. In addition, the therapist may teach the patient visualization skills and deep breathing.

During instruction, the patient is made aware of their "bio" progress by means of the monitoring equipment. The equipment may beep, buzz, or make a dinging sound to assure the patient that he or she is making progress in learning how to control a specific function. Some monitors are capable of providing a visual graphic.

Once the patient has learned the technique, the biofeedback equipment is no longer needed.

Does it take a long time for the patient to learn the technique?
Biofeedback treatment may involve as few as 10 sessions or as many as 40 or 50. The number of sessions is dependent on the disorder and the patient. Each treatment will last between one-half hour and an hour. Some patients may need to attend up to five sessions each week.

This treatment is not for all patients. If results are not apparent after eight or 10 sessions, that could mean the patient will not benefit. Also, patients with pacemakers should avoid biofeedback because the electrical impulses generated to monitor progress could interfere with the operation of a pacemaker.

Are there any side effects?
There are no known side effects from biofeedback. The treatment is non-invasive.

Updated on: 03/21/16
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