What Is Biofeedback?

Biofeedback is a type of therapy that uses sensors attached to your body to measure key body functions. Biofeedback is intended to help you learn more about how your body works. This information may help you to develop better control over certain body functions and address health concerns.

Biofeedback is built on the concept of “mind over matter.” The idea is that, with proper techniques, you can change your health by being mindful of how your body responds to stressors and other stimuli.

Chronic stress can have dramatic effects on your body. This may include elevated blood pressure, increased body temperature, and disruption of brain function. By promoting a more effective mental and physical response to stress, biofeedback aims to help you control body processes like your heart rate and blood pressure. These body processes were once thought to be completely involuntary.

The three most common methods of biofeedback include:

  • electromyography (EMG) biofeedback: measures muscle tension as it changes over time
  • thermal or temperature biofeedback: measures body temperature changes over time
  • electroencephalography: measures brain wave activity over time

Other types of biofeedback include:

  • galvanic skin response training: measures the amount of sweat on your body over time
  • heart variability biofeedback: measures your pulse and heart rate

Biofeedback is aimed at combating stress through relaxation techniques. You consciously manipulate your breathing, heart rate, and other usually “involuntary” functions to override your body’s response to stressful situations.

Biofeedback appears to be most effective for conditions that are heavily influenced by stress. Some examples include: learning disorders, eating disorders, bedwetting, and muscles spasms.

Biofeedback may be used to treat numerous physical and mental health issues, including:

  • asthma
  • incontinence
  • constipation
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • side effects from chemotherapy
  • high blood pressure
  • Raynaud’s disease
  • chronic pain
  • stress or anxiety

Some people prefer biofeedback as a form of treatment for these conditions because it’s noninvasive and doesn’t rely on medications. Other people pair biofeedback with more traditional treatment options to improve overall wellness.

Be sure to check your biofeedback therapist’s credentials before starting therapy. You may want to ask about their training and whether or not they accept your health insurance. State laws regulating biofeedback practitioners vary. Check your own state’s regulations before visiting a therapist.

No further preparation is required for a biofeedback session.

Electrical sensors that connect to a monitor will be hooked up to your body. The sensors measure one or more signs of stress. This can include heart rate, muscle tension, or body temperature. The measurements provide feedback about how your body responds to different stimuli.

A biofeedback therapist can teach you how to lower your heart rate through breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, and mental exercises. You can measure the results of these techniques and exercises on the monitor. This encourages more positive reactions and relaxation.

A typical biofeedback session lasts between 30 and 60 minutes. The number of sessions needed to resolve an issue will vary depending on a number of factors, including how quickly you learn to control your physical responses.

There are also commercial biofeedback devices available on the open market that are meant for home use. There are devices with handheld monitors and others that connect to your computer. However, you should be careful of scams. Be sure to check with your primary care provider before purchasing one of these devices. Not all manufacturers are reputable.

The Mayo Clinic reports that biofeedback is generally safe. There have been no negative side effects reported. However, biofeedback may not be for everyone. You should consult your primary care provider before starting this or any other type of complementary therapy.

Your therapist will help determine which biofeedback technique is right for you, based on your health issues. The success of biofeedback therapy depends on several factors, such as how often you use the techniques you learn during therapy in your daily life.