A Look at Biofeedback
The word ‘biofeedback’ comes from ‘bio,’ which means ‘life’ and ‘feedback,’ which means ‘returning to the source.’ Biofeedback describes experiences and feelings that we all sense every day. For instance, if we hear music we like, we might have a feeling of calm. Or, if we see a traffic build-up, we might experience tense feelings. Over time, after repeated experiences, these body reactions become a habit.
While some habitual body reactions are okay for our health, others—like tension, stress and pain are not. We can change our harmful habits to help promote our health and well-being.
The use of Biofeedback as a clinical therapy began over three decades ago. It is sometimes one part of a broader medical treatment plan and other times it is the main treatment.
Biofeedback is based on the following principles:
- Recognizing how the mind (our perceptions) and body (our physical responses) interact;
- Recognizing that the mind and body attempt to reach a state of ‘homeostasis’ – or balance;
- Recognizing that mental control can help physiologic (or body) control; and
- Having an interest in learning and using new strategies to reach a healthier homeostasis.
Over the past 40 years, the use of Biofeedback treatment for medical problems in children and adults has grown. Today, it is often used to treat:
- Pain associated with muscle tension (tension headache)
- Migraine headache
- Panic disorder
- Developmental and modern day stress
- Abdominal pain
- Sleep disorders
- Habit disorders
Children can learn to use biofeedback to help them feel and function better. Biofeedback often uses a computer and comfortable sensors on the skin to give information about:
- Reducing muscle tension—EMG
- Relaxing and raising finger temperature—thermal
- Calming feelings about medical or everyday stress—skin responses
- Promoting brain waves that enhance calm and focusing—EEG or neurofeedback
There are several Web sites where you can get more information about biofeedback and neurofeedback including:
- The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback provides information about biofeedback in general.
- EEG International, Inc. provides information about types of neurofeedback.
- These reports from NASA explain the use of biofeedback to treat ADHD.
--Barbara Felt, M.D.
July 2002Reviewed by faculty and staff at the University of Michigan
Updated June 2007
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