Skip to content

Stress Management Health Center

Font Size

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).

Recommended Related to Stress Management

What Stress Does to Your Body

By Naomi Barr The human body is well adapted to deal with short-term stress, but if it remains on orange alert for an extended period of time, you can grow vulnerable to some serious health problems. Here's how major systems respond to your worries.

Read the What Stress Does to Your Body article > >

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.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    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.
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    Hands breaking pencil in frustration
    stethoscope and dollars
    Woman with stressed, fatigue
    fatigued woman
    hand gripping green rubber ball
    family counseling
    stress at work
    frayed rope

    WebMD Special Sections