Biofeedback may help you reduce stress, manage pain, and relax. Take a few days to learn about biofeedback, who practices it, where to find a practitioner, what it's like, and how it may help you ease pain.
What Is Biofeedback?
Biofeedback can help you learn to control bodily functions that are usually involuntary, such as your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. When you're stressed, your heart rate and breathing speed up, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, and you sweat.
By practicing biofeedback, you learn to slow your heart rate and breathing, relax muscles, and lower blood pressure. The result? You feel more relaxed -- and that may help ease pain.
A Biofeedback Appt.
During a typical biofeedback session, sensors attached to your body send signals to a screen. On it, a sound, light, or image match a body function, such as your heart or breathing rate, blood pressure, skin temperature, sweating, or muscle activity.
While you're attached, a biofeedback therapist helps you practice relaxation exercises. The screen shows instant feedback on how much effect your relaxation efforts are having.
Biofeedback may help someone who has chronic pain by soothing tension and reducing anxiety. There is good evidence that biofeedback therapy can relax muscles and ease stress to reduce both the frequency and severity of headaches. Biofeedback may also help ease discomfort from conditions such as low back pain, rheumatoid arthritis, abdominal pain, temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ), and fibromyalgia.
Biofeedback experts may guide you through any of these relaxation exercises:
* Deep breathing: Expanding the abdomen, not the chest
* Progressive muscle relaxation: Alternately tightening and relaxing different muscles
* Guided imagery: Focusing your mind on an image (such as the color and texture of an orange)
* Mindfulness meditation: Focusing thoughts and letting go of negative emotions
The goal is to learn to control body functions on your own, without the biofeedback device.
Psychiatrists, psychologists, and other licensed health care professionals may offer biofeedback therapy. To find a qualified provider, contact an organization like the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.
Some insurance plans cover biofeedback, but coverage varies widely.
The number and frequency of sessions depends on your situation, but it's often about 8 to 12 sessions, with each lasting about 30 min.
There are also biofeedback devices that you can use at home, such as on a computer.
Help for Migraines
Using biofeedback training, you may be able to reduce stress and better manage a headache. Thermal biofeedback is commonly used to help prevent and treat migraines. It teaches you how to increase the blood flow to your fingers while calming your nervous system. Most studies on biofeedback and migraines indicate that it can reduce the frequency and duration of headaches and is comparable to medications.