What is biofeedback?

Biofeedback is a mind-body technique that uses the mind to control bodily functions and responses, such as muscle tension and heart rate. Biofeedback is a type of alternative or complementary therapy. It is commonly used to help a person relax and to manage a range of conditions. Common examples include headaches, stress, incontinence, and high blood pressure.  

Biofeedback involves attaching painless electrodes to your body. The electrodes are connected to a device that measures and provides constant information about a certain bodily function or response. Information is often seen on a computer screen. 

You will learn to use your mind to change or control your body’s reactions using this continuous feedback. For example, you can learn to relax specific muscles to manage headache pain. With practice, you can perform the technique without the assistance of the device.

Biofeedback is helpful for some people with some conditions, but may or may not be effective for you. Studies on biofeedback are ongoing to determine how effective it is for various conditions. You should consider biofeedback as a complementary therapy and not a replacement for complete medical care. Consult your doctor before trying biofeedback.

Types of biofeedback

The types of biofeedback include:

  • Electromyography (EMG), which measures and provides information about muscle tension and cues to help you relax specific muscles
  • Thermal biofeedback, which measures skin temperature. Skin temperature often drops during stress. A low skin temperature provides a cue to use relaxation techniques.
  • Neurofeedback or electroencephalography (EEG), which measures brain wave activity. It prompts you to make changes to improve concentration and other mental functions. 
  • Galvanic skin response training, which measures the activity of sweat glands and perspiration levels. High levels provide a cue for you to use relaxation techniques.
  • Heart rate variability biofeedback, which measures heart rate. It provides cues to help you control your heart rate. This may help improve blood pressure, lung function, and stress and anxiety.

Why is biofeedback performed?

Your doctor may recommend biofeedback to help manage a variety of conditions, especially those that are triggered or aggravated by muscle tension. Some people try biofeedback to help avoid long-term medication usage or invasive medical treatments. Biofeedback may help manage:  

  • Blood vessel conditions including Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • Certain chronic diseases including asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure, and side effects of chemotherapy  
  • Chronic pain including complex regional pain syndrome
  • Concentration problems including learning disabilities, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other concentration difficulties. Biofeedback can also help improve concentration for meditation and spiritual purposes. 
  • Dental problems including bruxism (teeth grinding)
  • Gastrointestinal disorders including nausea, hiccups, chronic diarrhea or constipation, fecal incontinence, and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Health maintenance issues including regulating blood pressure and improving athletic performance
  • Heart conditions including cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heart beats)
  • Mental health and emotional disorders including stress, mild depression, anorexia nervosa, bedwetting, autism, anxiety and anxiety disorders, insomnia, and addiction
  • Musculoskeletal disorders including fibromyalgia, muscle spasms, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), chronic fatigue syndrome, and torticollis (twisted neck) and neck pain
  • Neurological conditions including seizures, dizziness, headaches, migraines, motion sickness, paralysis, head and spinal cord injury, and Tourette’s syndrome 
  • Reproductive conditions and symptoms including menstrual cramps, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), menopausal symptoms, urinary incontinence, painful intercourse, and vulvovaginal pain

Who performs biofeedback?

A biofeedback therapist performs biofeedback. Qualified biofeedback therapists are often licensed medical providers, such as dentists, doctors, registered nurses, physical therapists, psychiatrists, or psychologists.