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Non-drug strategies for health and wellness

Overview of Biofeedback

The term "biofeedback" comes from two words put together: "Biology", referring to the physiological processes in your body and "feedback", meaning information coming back to you. Biofeedback training involves the monitoring of one or more physical processes in the body and the use of this feedback or information to help you make changes to support your health and well-being or performance goals (such as in sports, academics or recreational activities).

Biofeedback training typically involves the use of electronic instruments to measure body processes such as heart rate, muscle tension and blood flow. These and other physiological processes can reflect mental and physical states that we may not readily be aware of, but that we can learn to modify for better health if we simply have a little information and knowledgeable coaching along the way.

One of the great things about biofeedback training is that the monitoring process requires no invasive procedures or needles. Sensors are simply placed on the skin to read the body processes of interest and the computer screen or speakers feed back the relevant data to help us gain access to the hidden world inside. Your biofeedback trainer will make this information easy to understand and the option of using biofeedback computer games can help add to the fun.

Biofeedback is often thought of as a technique to help people learn to relax and promote pain relief. However, it can also be beneficial in the process of rehabilitation, such as in neuromuscular re-education for stroke patients and pelvic floor rehabilitation for incontinence.

Some Common Conditions Treated Effectively with Biofeedback Include:

  • Headache - migraine, tension and post-traumatic headache
  • Chronic pain - neck and back pain, TMJ dysfunction, arthritis, fibromyalgia
  • Stress and anxiety - insomnia, hyper-arousal, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • G.I. problems - abdominal pain, IBS, constipation, incontinence
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary concerns - hypertension, arrhythmia, asthma

Biofeedback is an Educational Process for Learning Specialized Mind-Body Skills

Many functions in your body, such as heart rate and blood pressure, are controlled involuntarily by your nervous system. You don't think about making your heart beat faster. It just happens in response to your environment, like when you're nervous, excited, or exercising. When we are under stress, many functions in the body change. Not only are there influences on heart rate and blood pressure, but blood flow to certain areas of the body can become restricted. Also, our muscles tend to tighten up, our breathing quickens and we may start to sweat. Biofeedback allows you to see these stress responses on the computer screen. The immediate feedback, along with coaching from your therapist, helps you modified the responses of your body.

As with learning any skill, biofeedback takes practice. Your therapists may give your 'homework' to do to reinforce your training and help you incorporate new relaxation and self-management skills into everyday life. The ultimate goal is for you to internalize these self-regulation skills so that you no longer need the equipment to help you manage symptoms.

Types of Biofeedback Training (monitoring different body functions):


Adjunctive Techniques to Support Your Biofeedback Training

To help you fine-tune your control of body functions, your therapist is likely to give you guidance in a variety of different relaxation practices and stress management strategies.

  • Breathing techniques – deep, slow breathing with the proper use of the diaphragm muscle
  • Progressive muscle relaxation - alternately tightening and then relaxing different muscle groups
  • Guided imagery - focusing on a particular object or imaginary scene to make you feel more relaxed (e.g., sleeping kittens or peaceful beach scene)
  • Mindfulness meditation - observing your thoughts, sensations and experiences without judgment.
  • Stress management coaching - cultivating self-awareness of stress triggers and problem solving around issues that may be causing heightened arousal or pain.


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