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Biofeedback - Topic Overview

What is biofeedback?

Biofeedback is a method that uses the mind to control a body function that the body normally regulates automatically, such as skin temperature, muscle tension, heart rate, or blood pressure.

When you are first learning biofeedback, you will have sensors attached to your body and to a monitoring device. This provides instant feedback on a body function (for example, your skin temperature). The biofeedback therapist will then teach you physical and mental exercises that can help you control the function. The results are displayed on the monitor while you learn how to control that function. The monitor beeps or flashes when you achieve the desired change in that body function (such as increasing skin temperature or reducing muscle tension).

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Two types of biofeedback are:

  • Electromyography (EMG). This type of biofeedback uses a device that measures muscle tension while you practice a relaxation technique, such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or visualization.
  • Peripheral temperature or hand temperature biofeedback. This type of biofeedback uses a device that measures the skin temperature of your hands while you try to increase it, often through visualization or guided imagery. For instance, you may listen to a tape that stirs images of blood flowing to your hands. Increasing blood flow to the hands makes the hands warmer.

Learning biofeedback requires several sessions in a biofeedback lab or other setting. Most people can have success with biofeedback by the time they complete 12 sessions. Home feedback units are also available. With practice, many people may be able to learn to influence their muscle tension or blood flow without the help of the feedback monitor.

What is biofeedback used for?

People most often use biofeedback to control problems related to stress or blood flow, such as headaches, high blood pressure, and sleep disorders. Using it may also help control long-term (chronic) pain.

Is biofeedback safe?

Biofeedback is a safe procedure. It is most effective when taught by someone well-trained in biofeedback techniques.

The sensors placed on the skin to measure a body function may irritate your skin.

Always tell your doctor if you are using an alternative therapy or if you are thinking about combining an alternative therapy with your conventional medical treatment. It may not be safe to forgo your conventional medical treatment and rely only on an alternative therapy.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 29, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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