Biofeedback training may be performed in physical therapy clinics, medical centers and hospitals. A typical biofeedback session lasts 30 to 60 minutes. The cost varies depending on whether a person's insurance covers all or part of the procedure. Different doctors or health institutions may charge varying amounts.
During a biofeedback session, a therapist applies electrical sensors to different parts of a patient's body. These sensors will monitor the physiological response to stress, for example, muscle contraction during a tension headache, and then feed the information back to a person via auditory (hearing) and visual (seeing) cues. These cues may be in the form of a beeping sound or a flashing light. With this feedback, a person may begin to associate the body's response with certain physical functions, such as muscles tensing.
The next step is to learn how to invoke positive physical changes in the body, such as relaxing specific muscles when the body is physically or mentally stressed. The goal of biofeedback is to eventually be able to produce these responses alone, outside of the therapist's office and without the help of technology.
Several techniques may be used to gather information about an individual's bodily responses. The one used may depend on individual health conditions and objectives, and is determined by a biofeedback practitioner. Machines and techniques may include:
Electroencephalogram (EEG): An EEG monitors the activity of brain waves linked to different mental states such as wakefulness, relaxation, calmness, light sleep and deep sleep. This process is also known as neurofeedback.
Electromyogram (EMG): An EMG uses electrodes or other types of sensors to measure muscle tension. The EMG makes a patient aware of muscle tension allowing him/her to recognize the feeling early on and try to control the tension right away. EMG may be used to promote the relaxation of those muscles involved in backaches, headaches, neck pain and grinding teeth (bruxism). An EMG may be used to treat some illnesses in which the symptoms tend to worsen under stress, such as asthma and ulcers.
Galvanic skin response training: Sensors measure the activity of a person's sweat glands and the amount of perspiration on the skin, indicating the presence of anxiety. This information can be useful in treating emotional disorders such as phobias, anxiety and stuttering.
Temperature biofeedback: Sensors attached to fingers or feet measure skin temperature. Because body temperature often drops when under stress, a low reading can prompt a person to begin relaxation techniques. Temperature biofeedback may help treat certain circulatory disorders, such as Raynaud's disease, or reduce the frequency of migraines.