Mind Over Matter: How Biofeedback Can Help
This mind/body technique may help you control your physical responses to stress, anxiety and some types of pain.

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Mind Over Matter: How Biofeedback Can Help

How long has it been since you were truly relaxed? Relaxation is both a mental and physical state. It actually changes how your body responds. Your rate of breathing slows down. Blood pressure drops. Some people feel calm and at peace.

Biofeedback is a form of relaxation therapy. It uses monitoring devices to teach you how to be more in control of your body. You can learn to regulate your heart rate, breathing, tension in your muscles and other physical processes.

How is it used?
Biofeedback has been used to help manage a range of physical and behavioral issues. Among them are chronic pain, stress and anxiety, migraines, blood pressure, sleep problems, muscle injury, nerve or circulation problems, hyperventilation, bladder and bowel control, excess perspiration, asthma and physical performance.

It has its limits, of course. Biofeedback cannot heal a broken bone. But it might help you manage the pain of an injury. It does not cure cancer. But it might improve the quality of life for some people with cancer. Biofeedback may produce results in some people but not others, or for some conditions and not others. Doctors and scientists are still learning how and when to apply this technique.

Biofeedback is used with other medical approaches. It's not to be used in place of scientifically proven treatments. It's thought to work best when done regularly and combined with healthy eating, regular exercise and a strong network of support.

What is the process?
A trained and certified biofeedback therapist will guide the first treatments. He or she will gently attach electrodes to your skin. The electrodes are connected to a monitor that emits a continuous signal, like an image or an audible tone.

You then concentrate on the physical function you want to control - say, a very tense muscle. As you focus, you try to adjust your thinking or emotional state to relax your body. The monitor's tone or image changes as the muscle becomes more relaxed. The monitor will signal when you've reached your desired state.

What functions are measured?
Sensors will typically monitor some key functions:

  • Electrical activity and tension in muscles
  • Skin temperature
  • Perspiration
  • Heart rate
  • Rate of breathing
  • Blood pressure

Biofeedback is often a "trial and error" learning process. You observe how small changes in your thoughts, breathing, posture and muscles influence functions that are otherwise controlled unconsciously.

Once you have learned to reliably regulate physical functions through conscious thought, the electronic feedback is no longer needed. You should be able to relax your body on your own. However, if stress or chronic pain comes back, you may need a few refresher lessons.

Remember, never use biofeedback as a way to avoid or delay medical care.

By Ginny Greene, Editor
Created on 02/02/2009
Updated on 09/10/2014
  • American Cancer Society. Biofeedback.
  • National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Relaxation techniques for health: An introduction.
Copyright © OptumHealth.
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